Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett announced at the Aug. 12 board meeting that the district had hired its first director of special education.
Kay Altizer, who served as director of special education and student health in Vallejo City Unified School District for the last 13 years, joined Berkeley Unified as director of special education on July 1.
According to a statement from Berkeley Unified, Altizer has served as an educator for 32 years, and is widely known for her work as chair of the State Special Education Local Plan Area Association.
She began her career as a speech and language therapist and served as a program specialist and coordinator of special education services prior to her role as director of special education in Vallejo.
Berkeley Unified did not have a special education director before hiring Altizer. The district’s Student Services Director Felton Owens was managing special education, an area that has been the subjects of much criticism, complaints and lawsuits from the district’s special education parent and student community over the years.
At a Feb. 25, 2009 meeting, Huyett explained why the district had decided to hire a special education director after the board approved several settlement claims resulting from special education lawsuits against the district.
“I wanted to announce tonight that there are a lot of cuts and reductions but I will be coming forward to the board and asking them to hire a director of special education,” Huyett said. “Frankly, I see it as the heart of an effort to curtail special education costs. We need an administrator solely focused on special education even in this time when we are reducing budgets and cutting costs. I believe if we don’t do this our special education costs will continue to escalate and costs are going up faster than anything else.”
Huyett said that the district had recently lost up to $800,000 because of special education costs, mainly arising from settlement claims and lawsuits.
“So it’s a real crisis,” he said. “We need a top administrator to manage this. Currently we have someone working in special education who didn’t come here for that purpose but has some background in it. Assistant superintendent Neil Smith has been monitoring a lot of it but we all feel it is a necessity.”
At a public meeting at the Berkeley Adult School last fall, hundreds of parents of special education children in Berkeley public schools turned up to talk to an official from the California Department of Education, complaining about the lack of adequate services for special education students and the lack of a proper complaint procedure.
District officials have said in the past that special education is one of the most underfunded areas in public education, which results in many programs often not getting the kind of attention they deserve for success.