By Terry Dean
Special education students in District 97 needing additional assistance in their classroom this coming school year will receive the necessary help from current staff, the district's special ed director has informed parents. However, Mike Padavic, acknowledged there may be fewer special ed teaching assistants in classrooms come fall.
Padavic has made those assurances to concerned parents upset that classroom teaching assistants will be eliminated come next fall. Two-dozen TAs received Reduction In Force notices in April. As part of the annual process, some staff could return, and many often do, depending on enrollment needs for the upcoming year. The RIF process not only happens in D97 but high school and elementary school districts statewide each spring, as required by state law.
D97's TAs, in addition to some other teachers who are part-time or non-tenured, are annually "RIFd."
Fours parents spoke at the May 22 D97 school board meeting in support of the TAs who received RIF notices. Padavic also addressed the issue at the meeting. In all, 24 TAs received RIF notices — 14 in special ed and the remaining from regular ed classrooms. But those staff members were not singled out, nor is the district eliminating TAs altogether, Padavic said.
He met with a group of concerned parents two weeks ago at their request. Those who spoke at last week's meeting expressed appreciation for the meeting but said they still left feeling unsatisfied.
The parents accused the district of not being transparent in informing parents about the RIFs, saying they were completely unaware of the process. Padavic, however, said the names of staff who receive notices are publicized each spring and posted on the school board meeting agenda. He noted that many parents are not aware of the process but insisted it is not done behind closed doors.
Along with explaining the RIF process and how it works, Padavic assured the parents that additional classroom help will be provided to kids if needed. But the special ed director called it a "balancing act" with respect to maintaining staffing levels and appropriate classroom size. He said those classrooms were actually over-staffed, based on his department's assessment.