Public Comment

Unpacking Stimulus Funds for BUSD

By Mark Chekal-Bain
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:13:00 PM

Congratulations to Berkeley Unified School District for the award of federal stimulus funds serving low income and special needs students (Daily Planet, April 9). As the former student school board member when I was a high school senior and a BUSD parent, I urge Superitendent Huyett and the School Board to spend this money to set up systems that will reduce costs or increase revenue in the future. For example: 

1. Recover eligible expenses from health insurance companies. Establish a system to bill MediCal and other health insurance companies for special education services such as occupational therapy, speech services and staff time at IEP meetings. These are allowable costs under most insurance plans yet BUSD lacks a system to actually bill insurance companies. School districts throughout the state bill insurance companies, particularly MediCal, with great success. 

2. Reduce BUSD legal costs and settlement agreements requiring BUSD to pay for private school and other private services outside the district. BUSD needs to deliver free and appropriate education to all eligible special needs students in the District in the least restrictive environment in accordance with a student’s IEP. This is required under state and federal law; however, more than 100 families showed up at a meeting last fall to complain to the state that Berkeley Unified was not delivering special education services as mandated by law. These same parents end up prevailing when they seek restitution for BUSD’s failure to comply with the law costing millions of dollars. BUSD must hire a competent special education director who is seasoned in providing legally required services.  

3. Reduce outside consultants. Post and fill positions for special education services in the spring and summer so that all positions are full by the beginning of the school year, reducing the need to contract with outside vendors for more expensive services when parents begin pushing for the services that are mandated under their child’s IEP. 

4. Create a climate in Berkeley where district administrators work collaboratively with the parents of special needs students. Currently, most parents feel district employees are dishonest and out to get away with providing minimal services when it comes to meeting legal requiremts under IDEA. Neighboring districts have parent advisory boards that work side by side with district employees to develop systems that work for students and families. They wouldn’t have 150 parents show up at a public meeting to complain to the State about their districts. 

Parents of students with special needs are simply tired of hearing BUSD officials complain about the high cost of providing special education services when the District has failed to get its house in order. BUSD is missing out of being reimbursed for high costs and wasting money due to poor management. I applaud Superintendent Huyett and the Board for recently deciding to hire an experienced Special Education Administrator; however, I beg District officials to stop groaning about the high cost of providing services until a complete overhaul of Special Education is done. 


Mark Chekal-Bain is Berkeley resident.