Local Commentary

Letters to the Editor for September 18 – 24, 2008




Key Questions in Providing Special Needs

Editor,

As a citizen of Falls Church City since 1995, I feel compelled to respond to the numerous letters specific to special education services.

I have many years of experience in the field of special education as a teacher, supervisor, program administrator, statewide consultant, teacher trainer, author and adjunct professor in Connecticut as well as in Virginia. Also, my children do not receive special education services. I have nothing to gain or lose by writing this letter.

Providing quality special education services is riddled with challenges. State reimbursement to local schools is woefully inadequate: the number of children meeting criteria for services is much higher. This means schools may have to use local funding. Another challenge is that Special Education Directors are deemed most successful when they spend the least money. Top administrators need to take a hard look at how they condone or even encourage the current lack of services.

Over the past decade (during the tenure of the current and previous Special Education Directors) I have received numerous phone calls from frustrated parents seeking advice on how to secure special education services for their child. Not one of these calls was frivolous. The children had obvious, identifiable delays or disabilities that I knew met criteria for services. Yet services had been denied.

As someone who has chaired numerous Planning and Placement meetings, I have a strategy that addresses this problem. Ask each parent these three questions about their child’s education: 1) what is going well and how can we expand upon this success? 2) what is not going well and why? 3) how can we help?

No educational planning should occur without this discussion. Sometimes this leads to quick and creative fixes, sometimes not. These questions recognize the importance of the parental role, and parents get to be heard. The director/chair of the meeting can also provide clarity on what the school can and can not provide. Parent information can be used to design teacher training and provide a much needed resource.

Falls Church City has a small and affluent school system. We should be leaders, not followers.

Rebecca Weissman, M.S.

Falls Church

Snyder Warns Shortfall will Require Cuts

Editor:

Our citizens should be aware of several current issues on local budget, infrastructure funding and security.

Recent news regarding the City’s financial situation should alert us all to the need to lower expectations for future funding and look again at expenses. The first item is the fact that there is less than $100,000 in carry over from FY 2008, the last fiscal year, when in prior years the carry-over had been as much as a $ 1 million or more, according to the City Manager. The second item of concern is that current projections indicate that we will have $800,000 less in FY 2009 than had been anticipated, requiring budget cuts in the current fiscal year. That is the equivalent of more than 2 cents on the tax rate. In addition, real estate values may not have bottomed out, as indicated by data just provided by the Economic Development Authority, including that some condos are now selling for 20% less than originally priced. In combination with general negative financial conditions and the budget shortfalls at the state level, this local data strongly suggests we need to diversify our tax base away from reliance on residential real estate, as represented by the new “mixed use” development projects which are overwhelmingly residential, and curtail significant new funding.

Meanwhile, basic infrastructure continues to suffer, witness the Virginia legislature’s and the US Government’s failure to adequately fund transportation. Local governments in Northern Virginia already heavily contribute to funding roads and transit systems and we may be called on to do more.

Finally, on security, the region is better prepared and coordinated. But gaps still remain, one of which hopefully will be filled by the creation of a regional transportation coordinating entity, called MATOC. The City recently well utilized, in connection with Hurricane Hannah, emergency management equipment acquired through regional programs. However, few citizens have signed up to the City’s text alert system which will deliver to them potentially life saving information in case of natural or man-made disasters, alert.fallschurchva.gov. All citizens should all sign up for this emergency text alert service and can easily do so through the City’s website.

Dave Snyder, Member

Falls Church City Council

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