Union School Board Addresses Special Education Concerns and Financial Accountability in Recent Meeting

In the most recent Union School Board meeting, attention was given to the state of the district’s special education services. The discussion centered around the findings of a review conducted by Gary Mullenar, the assistant superintendent at the Ed Services Commission of New Jersey. The review highlighted concerns about special education staffing, the need for professional development, and the importance of consistent counseling services for students. The board also scrutinized the district’s financial health, receiving an unmodified opinion from fiscal auditors on the annual audit. Moreover, the meeting recognized community and student achievements, including the success of Union High School’s cosmetology program and the acceptance of two students into West Point.

Gary Mullenar presented a review of the special education department, which included observations, record reviews, interviews, and parent surveys. The review brought to light several challenges within the special education programs, such as a reduction in special education supervisors and staffing issues, which affected the timely support for behavioral issues. Additionally, the review emphasized the need for more resources to assist staff in accommodating and modifying instruction for students with disabilities.

The special education department’s document review was a focal point of the meeting, which touched on compliance issues like the timely mailing of evaluation reports to parents and inconsistent meeting signatures. The presentation underscored the necessity of data-driven and objective Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) statements and the implementation of SMART goals in IEPs. The board emphasized the need for professional development aimed at writing defensible IEPs and best practices for general education teachers to effectively address the needs of students with disabilities.

In light of the increase in classified students and a rise in referrals to the child study team, the board discussed implementing New Jersey tiered systems of support to address high parental referral rates. Concerns were raised about the low response rate to the parent survey, which highlighted the need for improved parent engagement and satisfaction with the district’s special services administration.

Several positive attributes of the district’s special education programs were acknowledged, including unified clubs and sports, a range of placement options, and the proactive efforts of the community parent advisory group (CPAG). The board discussed enhancing life skills and work-based learning programs and the need for consistent implementation of the in-class resource support (INRS) process.

The meeting also presented a challenge regarding the IEP process’s consistency and effectiveness. Staff turnover and the availability of faculty to attend IEP meetings were identified as hurdles. The board members expressed a desire to ensure regular training and collaboration to support students with IEPs. They also addressed the low parent survey response rate and concerns over dissatisfaction with the district’s special services administration.

On the financial front, Superintendent Gerry Benaquista stressed the importance of conservative budgeting and the long-term sustainability of the district’s finances. The fiscal auditors, led by Supply Clooney, reported an unmodified opinion on the district’s financial statements. The audit report pointed out the need for the district to keep accurate analyses of balances in the payroll agency account.

Vice President Chastity Santana acknowledged the importance of budget considerations, emphasizing the necessity of balancing priorities with fiscal responsibility. The board members also appreciated the auditors’ presentation and the assurance that the financial statements are reliable.

The meeting recognized the contributions of Miss Royster and the success of Union High School’s cosmetology program. Updates on district initiatives were provided, including the girls who code program at Jefferson Elementary School, the fifth-grade recreation basketball program’s success, and the creative fundraising efforts by the Connecticut Farms student council. The board also celebrated the accomplishments of students in various fields, from performing at Carnegie Hall to competing in wrestling Regionals.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Gerry Benaquista
School Board Officials:
Chastity Santana, Dicxiana Carbonell, Ronnie McDowell, Kimberly Scott-Hayden, Nancy Minneci, Elsie Conteh-Mackey, Michael Cohan, Mary Lynn Williams

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