Anoka-Hennepin unveils special ed staffing proposal

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Spurred by audit recommendations and increasing numbers of special education students, Anoka-Hennepin administrators presented a proposal Feb. 13 to increase staffing by 20 full-time-equivalent positions next school year.

About 15 percent of Anoka-Hennepin students, more than 6,000, receive special education services in the district, and that number continues to grow.

In the last two years, the district is up 600 special education students, 250 in the last year, according to Cory McIntyre, executive director of student services.

The complexity of students’ needs is also on the rise, according to Cherie Peterson, special education director.

Ahead of the current 2016-2017 school year, the district added 16.5 FTEs as a short-term solution, seeking help from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement to develop a more comprehensive, long-term vision for special education in Anoka-Hennepin.

Now more than halfway through the center’s yearlong audit of the program, administrators are comfortable moving ahead with staffing for next school year.

“The remaining audits are more programmatic in nature,” McIntyre said, adding that changes stemming from the audit will continue to be made over the next several years in phases.

One audit recommendation suggests the district adopt a workload staffing model, setting aside the caseload staffing model that has been used for years.

McIntyre called the caseload model “10 years past its prime.”

A new model would calculate required FTE by taking into account services to students across a building divided by the product of direct service by an individual teacher and average group size. Such a model would better consider the intensity and severity of students’ needs, according to McIntyre.

Switching to a workload staffing model calls for the addition of 3.35 FTEs.

Another audit recommendation pushes the district to provide full-time lead teachers at the elementary level. The staffing proposal calls for lead positions to expand into all 24 elementary schools to increase support.

The addition of 4.5 FTEs – two positions at 1 FTE and five at 0.5 FTE – would get the district closer to the ideal.

The audit indicates that providing training and support for special education teachers on the new Reading Wonders curriculum introduced this school year should be on the district’s to-do list.

To support the expansion of reading interventions and further coaching, an additional FTE has been dedicated to hiring another teaching and learning specialist at the elementary level.

Furthermore, the district intends to revise its administrative structure as audit recommendations advised so that supervisors will all work out of school buildings, rather than the district office.

“We can increase availability; we can increase visibility,” McIntyre said.

Three new positions would be added to make the new administrative structure work, and an administrative intern would become a full supervisor.

To address increasing enrollment and new state-mandated caseload requirements specifically, eight FTEs are proposed.

Reallocating nearly three FTEs from the high school to elementary and middle school programs along with adding another two FTEs will support elementary and middle school center-based programming. Employing another occupational therapist and school nurse are included in plans, as are hiring two early childhood special education teachers and two teachers to work with 18- to 21-year-old students at Bridges.

The total cost is estimated to come in around $1.8 million. Funding is expected to come from special education reimbursement, medical assistance and an increase in special education funding under the new formula, according to Michelle Vargas, chief financial officer.

“It looks like a great plan,” Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said.

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