Directing Dollars to Most Fragile Students

The bi-weekly meeting of the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) board convenes Wednesday evening this week at Anne Darling School, 1550 Marburg Way. At the meeting, the county board of education will be presented with an oral report on special education services the office provides to approximately 2,150 special needs students from ages 3 to 22.

The board primarily focuses on the delivery and quality of instructional programs in the Alternative Education Department. Unfortunately, a full report on the programs and services in the Special Education Department has been neglected for far too long. For several months, we have had this report scheduled, but due to charter school agenda items I postponed it.

The Special Education Department is administered out of the Student Services Branch of the SCCOE. This branch also contains all instructional programs for incarcerated, expelled, alternative education youth, Head Start/Early Head Start, state preschool, foster and homeless, migrant education and environmental education. The Student Services Department accounts for nearly 80 percent of the $280 million annual budget for the SCCOE. The Special Education Department has 980 employees and a total budget of more than $91 million.

When I’m asked what SCCOE does, I usually list the direct service programs to many of our most vulnerable youth in the county. And yet, most people still have no clue on why such a big office and budget needs to exist. It’s clear to me that the instructional programs provided by the office to the county’s most fragile students are staff-intensive and costly.

That being said, I believe the board might ask the soon-to-be-hired new superintendent to do a complete staffing study, with independent eyes, to see if we are as lean and mean as we need to be in this time of public education constriction. Too many of my friends and former colleagues believe the SCCOE has not trimmed the budget in a manner consistent with the reduction of funding for public school districts. An independent staffing study should be launched sometime this year to give the board and new superintendent some vital data to use going forward.

Last week, in preparation for chairing this Wednesday’s board meeting, I wanted a fresh look at the eclectic mix of the instructional programs in the Special Education Department. On that morning I took a tour of three SCCOE Special Education facilities, including Chandler Tripp School, Della Maggiore Center and the Hearing Impaired Program at Dartmouth Middle School.

What I saw was what I knew and felt from my involvement with these programs since I first started teaching in 1974. An extraordinarily talented and dedicated team of adults, provides services to students who are medically fragile, orthopedically impaired, emotionally disturbed, deaf/hard of hearing, and/or are autistic.

In one of the last speeches by the late U.S. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, he was quoted as saying on Nov. 1, 1977, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

As I had the privilege to walk the corridors of the special schools mentioned above with the director of special education, I felt proud to be an American. The medically fragile youth, some simultaneously in the dawn and twilight of their life, are cared for with respect, love and wisdom.

The report in the board packet prepared by Chief Linda Aceves and Special Education Director Mary-Anne Bosward, which is online at, lists four major challenges in the near future:

— Increased demand for services by districts.
— Increase in identification of students with Autism.
— Reduced funding.
— Shortage of staff in critical areas, especially Speech.

It is my hope that the SCCOE Board will do all it can to target the budget dollars to direct services to our fragile youth in all county school programs, from Gilroy to Palo Alto. The services—albeit very costly due to the enormous physical, emotional, and educational needs of the students—is vital and a moral imperative. Perhaps, the American society gets a passing grade on Humphrey’s moral scale, but we can never lose sight of the importance of educational services to our most fragile students.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. The programs that the COE provides to children with moderate to severe educational challenges are “vital and a moral imperative” but because “Too many of my friends and former colleagues believe the SCCOE has not trimmed the budget in a manner consistent with the reduction of funding for public school districts” you are going to spend money on an independent review?

    I’m glad that you have switched your attention from the tiny minority of Alternative Education students to the COE’s biggest budget item but I do wish your reasons were better (or at least better expressed).

    If the COE can do what it needs to for students more efficiently, that’s a good thing, but sharing the pain of your friends in the districts is not a good reason to look at cutting special education staffing. These are programs for children who cannot be served by anyone else.

  2. The numbers provided ($91 million/2150 students) reveal an average cost per student of $42,325, suggesting that the administrators of this program are every bit as fragile as are their charges.

  3. I once looked up the sccoe budget to get a better understanding of where all the money was going, but it was full of jargon and incomprehensible. Perhaps I gave up before finding charts and summaries that the public could understand. But, if you’re not hiding the info, why not make it more understandable?

    That said, I think foster kids have gotten a really rotten deal in life and deserve some great vocational training to support themselves once they are cut off from their foster homes.

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