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School Board Deflects Attention from “Secret Deals”

July 25, 2007

Dear Editor,

I want to thank columnist Frank Gruber for continuing to follow the secret deals issue in SMMUSD Special Education. (see latest column) His inability to parse the "clarifications" proposed by the school district staff at the July 12 meeting is completely understandable.

This legalese can only be intended to confuse and redirect attention away from the secret deals, the off-IEP contracts that are the concern of the City Council and the reason the council voted to hold $530,000 in abeyance until the practice is scrutinized.

It is important to notice that the "clarifications" generated by school district staff reference Dispute Resolution Agreements, NOT the secret contracts that are at issue. Dispute Resolution Agreements are part of a legal pathway proscribed by federal law after parents have declared that they want to pursue legal action against the district.

This is NOT the practice the City Council is concerned about. The City Council is concerned about the home-grown secret deals -- the off-IEP contracts between parents and Tim Walker that result when Walker or one of his coordinators stop the discussion by the IEP team of teachers and specialists and prematurely declare the process in dispute.

Parents are then offered an informal meeting with Mr. Walker in his office where a contract that has been prepared in advance is offered. The contract contains an offer of services that are not written into the child’s IEP educational record and have in the past only been offered if the parent agrees to be gagged.

These deals began with the arrival of Mr. Walker as Director of Special Education and they bear no resemblance to the legal process of Dispute Resolution, which results in a follow-up IEP meeting to memorialize the educational services agreed to. The only other district I know of that uses secret deals is Mr. Walker's former district, Glendale.

Thank goodness the Board voted to disregard these "clarifications." Had they approved them, the issue would have never passed review by City Council. One has to wonder whether the staff wants this practice to be exposed for what it is.

It's time for the Board of Education to look long and hard at the motivations of staff and to demand transparency in order to restore public trust. Walker was brought in by former Supt. John Deasy in order to cut costs. I don't know whether Deasy understood the lengths Walker was going to, whether he was familiar with the details of the secret deals.

Members of the Board claim that they were told and continue to be told that they cannot legally see the deals. The State has no access to these contracts. Only Walker and the parents know what really goes on or how much money is at stake.

I personally am hoping that all of this will result in some truth-telling about the terrible state of our Special Education program, which is the real reason for these deals.

Again, I thank Mr. Gruber for continuing to follow this important story. Parents and teachers appreciate his taking this matter seriously. I personally do not intend to desist in following this issue to its conclusion. I am certain that any independent analysis will reveal that this practice, which has proceeded without scrutiny by our Board, will be revealed to be a violation of the spirit of federal law.


Tricia Crane
Santa Monica

(Editor’s note: Tricia Crane is the former chair of the Special Education District Advisory Committee.)
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