Superintendent Dude says Decatur Schools declined to pay for special education report
In December 2016, the Decatur School Board approved a $93,000 contract with the Georgia State University Research Foundation to conduct a special education program evaluation for City Schools of Decatur.
But the report didn’t meet the school system’s expectations and it left parents of students in special education with more questions than answers.
In a surprise announcement, Superintendent David Dude said CSD had declined to pay for the study, despite provisions in the contract that required payments in quarterly installments throughout 2017. Attempts to reach Nicole Patton Terry, the Executive Director of The Urban Child Study Center who is a professor at GSU and was part of the study team, were unsuccessful.
“When we received the report, we identified concerns similar to those shared by others and are working with GSU to address those areas where we believe the contract was not fully realized,” Dude said. “No funds have been paid to GSU to date, and will continue to be withheld pending resolution of these concerns.”
He could not immediately explain how the school system got around the contract provision that required quarterly payments. School Board Chair Lewis Jones said he was researching the matter and could not comment.
The report based on that evaluation, presented at the May 8 School Board meeting, consisted of a slide show and a summary of the slide show. CSD says this is the only report provided. Parents with children in CSD’s special education program criticized the report’s paper-thin depth and generalized conclusions and recommendations.
The report concluded, among other things:
– CSD is serving more special education students than ever before. About 500 students are receiving some kind of services. The type of disabilities served has also changed over time.
– The increase in the number of students being served has created communications challenges for the district.
The report recommended improving communication procedures, considering grade level and disability when allocating resources and improving data gathering.
Data gathering was something GSU was asked to do, under the terms of the contract. According to the scope of work for the study approved by the School Board in December 2016, the research team was supposed to, “merge and compile the data obtained from CSD to provide a longitudinal picture of the recent and current state of special education services provided by CSD.”
The scope of work clearly anticipated a meatier report than the one the board received. The contract called for “analyses of quantitative and qualitative data sources, culminating in a comprehensive report of findings with recommendations for next steps.”
“The … team will merge and compile the data obtained from CSD to provide a longitudinal picture of the recent and current state of special education services provided by CSD,” the contract says. “The report will include information concerning outputs (number/proportion of students served, the characteristics of teachers serving students, financial resources devoted to special education services, numbers of students referred for evaluation, etc.) and information on outcomes (student performance, engagement, discipline, etc.).”
When asked how the report complied with these provisions and others in the contract, Dude and School Board members could not readily answer, prompting Dude’s revelation that the school system never paid for the work.
That revelation raises another question. According to the contract, the payments were due in quarterly installments throughout 2017. If CSD wasn’t paying GSU, then why was the university’s research team conducting surveys in 2017?
That answer will have to wait. Dude said he will provide a fuller explanation in a face-to-face interview with Decaturish at some point in the near future.
Parents of special education students were baffled by the report presented to the School Board. It’s worth noting how the contract with GSU came about. In 2016, parents of dyslexic students were pressuring the school system to improve services for their children. Dude raised the possibility of GSU conducting a study during an October 2016 meeting.
“We have already identified a university group that can do a program evaluation for us,” he said at the time. “[Georgia State has] significant expertise in the area of special education. They have reviewed what we’ve talked about regarding dyslexia and so I’m very hopeful for that.”
The final report was due in the fall of 2017. When April 2018 rolled around and there was still no report, parents of special education students started sounding the alarm that something was amiss. CSD apparently did not have a copy of the report until just before the May 8 meeting.
In an interview in April, Terry, the GSU professor, said analyzing the data took time.
“We spent most of the calendar year collecting data,” she said. “It takes a while, once you get it all, to analyze it and put it in a way where you can understand it.”
There is much that parents still don’t understand about the report.
Following public meetings about dyslexic students two years ago, parents of special education students banded together to form the City Schools of Decatur Special Education PTA.
The group has been supportive of students with learning disabilities, special health plans and students who are gifted. Sometimes student can fall into more than one of those categories.
Following the presentation on Tuesday, the Special Education PTA President Kara Campbell said she had numerous questions. When asked about Dude’s revelation that GSU wasn’t paid, she said, “I trust Dr. Dude. I believe him. If he says he didn’t pay, I believe he didn’t pay.”
Parents had high hopes for the study, she said.
“We were so hopeful to have a real plan that would make change, and this doesn’t feel like it,” she said.