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Another State Task Force, Another Look at Special Education in NJ

Governor appoints panel authorized in wake of reports citing lack of consistent quality and standards in programs for kids with disabilities

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A year after the law creating it was enacted, Gov. Chris Christie has finally named the members of a new state task force to look at special education in New Jersey – from its costs to its effectiveness.

It’s a topic that has seen no shortage of study and task forces. The question now is whether the new group will offer recommendations and ideas that will prove more lasting than before.

A similar task force was created nearly a decade ago, its findings largely shelved. The New Jersey School Boards Association recently completed its own year-long study – its recommendations still under review.

The latest task force was created under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), who said she was inspired by a series in the Asbury Park Press that highlighted the lack of standards and consistency across special-education programs in the state.

Approximately 200,000 of the state’s 1.4 million students are classified with one disability or another, and are provided services that range from extra instruction in the general education classroom to intensive one-on-one services in separate school settings.

While there is no precise figure for how much school districts and the state spend for special education, it is surely in the billions of dollars.

“These appointments are a significant step forward for special education in New Jersey," Beck said in a statement this week.

“We can not afford to waste one dollar due to ineffective or inefficient programs, all of our students deserve the best we can offer, especially those in special education programs,” she said. “I look forward to seeing the task force begin its efforts and working with them as we strive to provide the best education to every student in New Jersey."

One member of the previous state task force, who also appointed to the new panel, said she hopes it will heed lessons from previous efforts.

“I would hope that it can narrow its focus and come up with practical recommendations that have a real potential for working,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

When asked if there was one over-arching lesson to be learned from past efforts, Strickland said: “Don’t try to tackle everything at once.”

The new task force represents a broad range of interests, from families of special-need students, to special-education teachers, to union leaders, to lawyers and business administrators.

The members are:

  • John J. Driscoll, parent, Paramus

  • Jean Pasternak, parent, Millburn

  • Kristin P. Hennessy, teacher, Point Pleasant Beach

  • Kerri Lee Walsifer, special services director, Sea Girt, Monmouth)

  • Kevin Sturges, ARC representative, Annandale

  • Deborah Spitalnik, Council of Developmental Disabilities representative, Stockton

  • Catherine Lindenbaum. New Jersey Parent-Teacher Association representative, Brick

  • Kevin Ahearn, New Jersey Association of School Administrators representative. Matawan

  • Donna Kaye, New Jersey School Boards Association representative, West Windsor, Mercer

  • Barbara Frascella, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association representative, Allentown

  • Corinne Steinmetz, New Jersey Association of School Business Officials representative, Phillipsburg

  • Margaret Kinsell, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey representative, Browns Mills

  • Lynne Strickland. Garden State Coalition of Schools representative, Rumson

  • Chris Sarandoulias, Association for Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped representative, Medford

  • Marie Blistan, New Jersey Education Association representative, Harrisonville

  • Princess Hogue, American Federation of Teachers representative, Newark.

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