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Parents worry over cuts to special ed assistants

Original post made on Dec 3, 2009

A proposal to cut back the hours and benefits of nearly a dozen employees in the Mountain View Whisman School District's special education program has caused frustration among local parents, but administrators say changes to the program have made the full-time schedules unnecessary.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 3, 2009, 11:20 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by denise
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm

this will hurt the children that needs these services please do not cut for the kids sake have a heart for these children with special needs thanks

Posted by Anon
a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 3, 2009 at 2:24 pm

* Why would benefits have to be reduced to 25%? If they are working 3/4 time, give them at least 3/4 benefits, no? What's the rationale here?

* If these cuts are indeed not part of the district's budget crisis, then shouldn't the district have a moral obligation to find other jobs within the district for these aides, to cover the time they are losing? This would increase the chances that they would stay and continue the services they provide to this particular community of children who desperately need good services?

* What about, for example, having the aides work one-on-one with some of those students in the after-school programs that are offered in the district?

* It seems ridiculous to forbid the aides to provide reports to the parents when they are the ones interacting with the kids all day long. The excuse that they are not teachers, and therefore don't have training, is lame. What kind of training do teachers get in speaking with parents (are they really trained)? If so, why not provide that training to the aides so that communication can be fostered between the care-givers and the parents? Why make life that much more difficult for parents who already have enough challenges to deal with? Not to be sarcastic, but this seems a segment for the Rachel Maddow's "Weak in Review!"

Posted by Yeah right
a resident of Jackson Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Funny, Totter has received more than $10,000 dollars in raises in the last 3 years, yet this is all about saving money she says. This does not include bonuses and perks such as cell phone and car expenses.

Do a FOIA and you'll see where the money is going to. It's not to the students who need it most.

Posted by Lena
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm

If the IAs are not qualified to discuss the children they work with, why are most of the aides making their own lesson plans. My daughter has worked at Slater as an IA for as long as the Autism Program exist and she spends much more time with her assigned children than the teachers. She makes up most of the lesson plans by herself and uses a lot of her own money ,and mine as well for teaching supplies. Last year she homeschooled children with next to no support from anybody. Under those circumstances I would say she is well qualified to discuss a child's progress with a parent.

Posted by mr.t
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm


Posted by Estefan
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 3, 2009 at 6:10 pm

So that's how it is, the most vulnerable students will be the ones that lose while the District Office has no problem spending money on lawyers and raises for the superintendents.

And where is the weak-minded Ghysels on this issue? No where to be found. I guess he only likes to be quoted on news that makes him look good. Typical.

Show both Totter and Ghysels the door!

Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Now let me see - compensation parity with surrounding districts? Is this a goal of the Trustees and our community? I'm assuming it is and that "a living wage" is also a community goal for those who directly support our children (and not just District supervisors).

So - what are the local benchmarks? Trustees - the Sunnyvale district has IAs working at 75% (6/8 = 3/4 = 75%) and their benefits are not impacted anywhere near the amount the District Administration is proposing. If Trustees are proposing that, in this instance, we should not offer parity with surrounding districts, then we all need to hold the Trustees to THE SAME STANDARD when a contract is offered to the next Superintendent, or raises to any current supervisor.

Posted by longtime parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 3, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I think staff and parents would agree that Autism services has been ruined by Totter's program redesign. Children and families have been hurt. There are numerous accounts from parents of services to children being withdrawn by high priced TOSAs acting on her agenda. Staff morale has been destroyed along with the trust of parents who rely on open communication with staff to assess their child's progress. It is disgraceful! -and the trustees are completely in the dark because they only hear Totter's strained rationale for her ongoing assault on the community to save a buck and her own six figure position. We need change!

Posted by autism mom
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2009 at 7:54 pm

First, I would like to address Ms. Totter's statement that the social group is occurring during the school day instead of after school, so that the children with autism can be around "normal" children. Is she stating that children with autism are abnormal?? Several autism experts in this area run after school social groups comprised only of children with autism. Having autism does not mean that you absorb the skills of the kids around you. Otherwise, children with autism who have "normal" siblings would be cured.
Secondly, I know several parents who live in this district whose afterschool services have been cut. There is plenty of work for these aides, the district just does not want to provide the needed services. This is all just their excuse for doing so.
As a parent of a child with autism, I do not keep track of who is "certified" to speak to me about my kid, I simply want someone to tell me how his day went. It seems suspicious that the aides are prevented from speaking to parents, what does the district fear that they will say??

Posted by Diane
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

I don't think they should be telling the aides to keep their mouths shut and not to tell the parents about their child's day. It is one thing to go over "progress" as a whole... like if they are meeting their goals in their IEP's. With that kind of information, sure, leave it to the parents. As for how their child's day went... (Did they eat their food?, Did they do anything new today?, Were they upset about anything?) I don't think that should be kept from the parents and I strongly doubt that the teachers would be able to answer all those questions. The teachers look over the class as a whole... the aides are the ones who make it run smoothly. KEEP YOUR IA's HAPPY OR THEY WILL LOOK ELSEWHERE FOR EMPLOYMENT AND MVW STUDENTS WILL LOOSE OUT!!! Why don't you administrators take a cut instead.... I'm sure you guys could afford it more than the aides!

Posted by Diane
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Correction: "leave it to the teachers to go over IEP information with the parents."

Posted by Debb
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm

I work as an Instructional Assistant with Children with Autism and I really am upset in how this school district is going to cut hours and benefits of these Aides. I know how stressful this kind of job can be at times, and we all need our medical benefits. Aides have the same amount of sick leave as the people working in the offices that don't have direct contact with children.

All children get sick and schools are breeding grounds for illnesses. If you cut these peoples hours and benefits how are they to pay for their medical bills, rent, and other living expenses? The children need these aides! And need them to be health and happy. Cutting their hours and benefits won't do either for them. For the children I strongly think this district should re-think their plan.

Posted by Frank
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm

"It made more sense to have a social skills group when there are normal kids around," she said, "as opposed to a group with only autistic students."

The correct way to have said this would have been....

"It made more sense to have a social skills group when their are general children around, as opposed to a group with only children with autism"

They are children first and have autism second Mrs. Totter. And what is "normal" anyway?

Posted by concerned
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Dec 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

say what? all this for a savings of $65,000 seems very short sighted! Private programs for children with autism often cost school districts far mor than this a year per student! I have been impressed with the fabulous job the Autism Services staff has done with our kids in the past (even with limited resources) and it showed in the progress the children made. The instructional assistants are already gravely underpaid as it is. They are the backbone of this program just by the nature of the needs (lots of individual instruction and attention) of these precious children. The issues here reach far beyond cutting hours and making a living. This is an issue of demoralization. The "restructuring" of the program without regard to student needs only serves to undermine the value of the services provided by the staff. The progress that the students coming through this program have made is far more significant than $65,000. The death of what once was will not only impact the students with autism but will also impact the community in which they live.

Posted by confused
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2009 at 6:40 am

Wait! The instructional assistants aren't "trained" enough to talk to me about how my child's day went but they are "trained" enough to work with my child and provide intervention targeting her complex needs?
It has been my experience that when parents already have a trusting relationship with their child's teachers, aides, etc. then it is far easier to clear up any misunderstandings or problem solve any issues that are communicated. That's just human nature!

Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2009 at 9:18 am

What is a TOSA?

I know some of the abbreviations used in this discussion, but it might be helpful for readers in general if these were spelled out.

Posted by reader
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 4, 2009 at 10:14 am

TOSA: Teacher On Special Assignment (administratiative work?)

Posted by loving parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

What is a FOIA? I would love to get more details on where our taxes are going for this community.

What's sad is that most of these autistic preschoolers need at least 40 hours of week of intensive behavior therapy in order to be truly prepared for their academic (and social and life in general) success. And how come the school district does not hire "certified teachers" or certified therapists in the first place to work directly with our children? I've seen through a private practice how educated, creative and focused ABA therapists are and how much my son has progressed because of their training and talents.

One of the things we as a community can do is contact our state and federal legislators to help support those who support our preschoolers. The school district does not receive "per student" funding for the preschoolers with special needs, and that's where part of the problem lies. Let's see what we can do to turn that around. Who's willing to join me in contacting our legislators for funding specifically focused on our autistic children?

Posted by Shelly
a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 4, 2009 at 4:11 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment]

Posted by Augie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm

We must tell the Trustees loud and clear that we want to change the people who are making these damaging decisions. This is just the latest episode of Asst.Superintendent Totter's abuse of staff and the community.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Dear Shelly-I hope that your comments get taken down right away. I believe you are making very personal accusations against someone who is wonderful, caring, amazing, hardworking and extremely dedicated. You have obviously never seen her at work and experienced how she is with children, she is absolutely amazing. Her children, and the children in her program, are very lucky to have her. You obviously know nothing about her, so maybe you should keep your ill-informed personal judgements off of such a public forum where this is not even relevent to the subject.

Posted by "Old Yeller"
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Shelly, WOW! You really must be a very nasty person to post such ugly comments about a teacher and Mom who is very caring and loving! It is evident that you do not know anything about what a truly talented teacher she is and you know what, mind you own business about how someone talks to their own kids. We all know how we need to talk to our own children. I cannot believe your post was not taken down immediately! Talking about someone's children is inexcusable; How dare you!
You must have been having an really bad day or you just don't know what the hell you are talking about!

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 6, 2009 at 10:30 am

An inside story will reveal Totter doesn't have a clue what IA's do. IA's trained under J. Garver are dedicated, hardworking, caring people. Jenny, previous Director of Autism Srvices at Slater School was bullied into retiring early. She requested one office assistant. When she left, they added 3 TOSA's. Did you know that a teacher at Monte Loma had been confronting Totter (2 years) about the request for reclassification and pay increase for IA's... and some how he got fired on his birthday. Coincident?? Hmmmm... Working and living with students with autism can be mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding. Studies prove that intensive ABA in the early years makes a huge difference. After school social skills programs are essential to teach these children the social skills they need to live productive lives. The new program put together by Totter and the new TOSA's is pitiful. Intensive ABA and social skills training has been tossed by the wayside. The children with autism are being thrown into mainstream classes and they are not adjusting well. The new program is a disaster and will fail to meet the needs of 'all the children'. It will frustrate public school teachers and parents. I don't see how hiring more administrators cuts costs and improves education. Can the Board explain that to me? Is this how California plans to improve their public schools? Pull money from the IA's and students and pour money into micro management? We need new 'humans' at the top...

Posted by Joan Chaskin
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Dec 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm

First of all, thank you to all the people who have shown their support for us. I've been an Instructional Assistant for the MVSD/MVWSD for 20 years. Those of us that have 8-hour positions have been with the Autism Services program for at least 3 years. There is plenty for us to do. The after-school social programs need to be reinstated; we cannot accomplish during the lunch hour what we used to offer after school. When you work with children with autism, you know it takes time to develop trust. We've done this with our precious students and their families and ask that you allow us to continue to give them the education they are guaranteed by law.

Posted by reader
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 8, 2009 at 10:00 am

Totter comments are very uninformed. How can she be making the decision to cut the IA's if she is so uninformed? Her comments below are untrue.

"It made more sense to have a social skills group when there are normal kids around," she said, as opposed to a group with only autistic students.

It is obvious she has never visited the preschool. Last year there was one child that was "neurotypical." The child was wonderful and did so much for the program! Now they no longer allow "neurotypical" children onto the campus. So moving the social skills group to an earlier part in the day doesn't help anyone. It just cuts costs.

Totter is very uninformed. How can she be making decisions that impact the children when she doesn't have all the information? It doesn't make sense.

These IA's have done so much for these kids. I've seen kids make 100% improvements. I contribute it to these IA's and the wonderful program they had last year. By reducing hours, their benefits and the staff it harms the kids the most. We all will pay for it in the future.

Posted by reader
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2009 at 10:02 am

Cut the administrative costs, not the hours or benefits of people who work with the children!

Posted by Joan
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Dec 8, 2009 at 9:55 pm

I'm sorry, Shelley, but I think you need to keep your personal feelings out of this. I'm pretty sure I know who you are bad-mouthing, and she is wonderful with "our" kids. Both of our teachers in the preschool program have a lot of experience with students with special needs. If I had a child with autism I would be thrilled to have either one of them as my child's teacher. Our program was created to save the district money, which it has. We want to maintain the services we have so our children get a quality program without having to go to private programs.

Posted by joe
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 9, 2009 at 7:06 am

This is a short sighted solution typical of our school administrators. They have top loaded management in Special Ed with 3 Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs) who do not teach, they just make teachers, parents, and staff miserable by following Mrs. Totter's agenda of providing the least services possible, -to the point that they are out of compliance with the law.

It is only a matter of time until parents mount successful legal challenges. How much do you suppose that will cost?

It is time for change at MVWSD and Mrs. Totter would be a good place to start. -Poor legal advice, out of compliance temp teachers, arbitrary layoffs, pension questions, low staff morale and keeping the Board in the dark is not my idea of a good job.

The lady has too much control and has demonstrated time and time again a lack of vision and understanding of staff and the community. She should go.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm

FyI- The School Board is scheduled to take action on reducing the hours of special education staff on Thursday. The reduction in hours will impact the quality of education to students with autism, and their peers in the classrooms. Hope to see you all there...

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Dec 9, 2009 at 8:57 pm

More in regards to what Joe had posted-the special ed administration is very top-heavy. No one has mentioned in these posts that in addition to the three TOSA's and Ms. Totter, there is also a woman named Kristen Enriquez acting as program coordinator, in the position that Jenny used to fill. I guess the restructuring that the district is doing means that she needs three people to help her do the same job that Jenny did by herself.

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