Parents of Metro students with disabilities have planned a protest Friday to express “extreme concern and outage” over the district’s decision to cut more than 100 special-education paraprofessionals.
“MNPS cannot continue to serve the needs of all students with disabilities and cut 25 percent of their support staff,” Erin Richardson, a parent of a special-needs student, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the event. “It’s not feasible.”
Parents, families and other concerned citizens have organized the protest for Friday, June 1, at 11:45 a.m. at the Tennessee Disability MegaConference, held at the Nashville Airport Marriott.
Faced with depleted federal stimulus funds, Metro school officials announced last week that the district would be cutting more than 100 special-needs paraprofessionals, or trained aides. Given the limited lifespan of stimulus dollars, school administrators say they knew this day was coming.
The district currently employs 632 paraprofessionals who work with students with disabilities. Though reductions in positions would reduce that figure by at least 100, Metro school administrators insist special-needs services will remain unchanged.
“We have been very careful to review all students’ needs and we will continue to meet those needs,” Debbie McAdams, the district’s executive director for Exceptional Education, has previously said.
But parents like Richardson are skeptical about whether that could possibly be the case.
“Without adequate staffing, our students will be spending more time in segregated, self-contained classroom settings, which too often fail to prepare them for the real world outside of the special education classroom,” Richardson said.
School officials say the district will continue to adhere to inclusive practices, which were recently ushered in as part of Director of Schools Jesse Register’s reform efforts.
Other parents, however, appear perplexed about the timing of the cuts. Mayor Karl Dean has proposed Davidson County’s first property tax hike in seven years, funds he has said would assure adequate funding for Metro schools.
“It is difficult for me to maintain an optimistic view of the direction of our public schools when decisions to eliminate critical positions are made in secret and later announced,” parent Daynise Couch said in the release. “With the many discussions about the mayor’s recent property tax increase and how that could fully fund our schools, it is difficult to understand why these cuts are even necessary.”
Dean’s property tax hike –– which heads before the Metro Council next week on its second of three votes –– would fund Metro schools slightly under the $723 million level requested by the school board.
Federal funds, however, are set aside from the school district’s operating budget. And apparently Dean’s tax increase would not raise revenue to a level high enough to offset the depletion of this particular pool of federal stimulus funds.