Some positive changes have taken place in the Special Education Division of the Department of Education which at one time faced the risk of losing its federal funding.
An independent group from Hawaii which evaluated SPED found many shortcomings of the program and even instances where federal regulations for the instruction of students with special needs were not followed.
In the face of these problems, then Director of Education, Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau appointed Paulo Salave’a who was with the Department’s Office of Curriculum Instruction and Accountability to head SPED temporarily.
At the DOE monthly press conference Friday, Salave’a announced that SPED has been awarded a budget of $6.3 million for the new school year and the first portion was disbursed last month while the balance will be released in October.
Salave’a says the funding is nowhere near sufficient to cover educational services for the special population.
He reports that 90% of the funding goes to personnel costs.
DOE has to hire several professional staff from off island because the territory doesn’t have them.
Specialists such as a psychologist, pathologist, physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. And these specialists don’t come cheap.
Salave’a says the lack of specialists may be a factor in the finding that SPED was non compliant with grant regulations.
Efforts are being made to reduce the funding that goes to personnel and channel the savings for equipment, materials and services for the students.
Salave’a was proud of the changes in SPED.
He acknowledged the assistance from DOE’s Teacher Quality Program through Assistant Director, Diane Ameperosa, under whose leadership a University of Hawaii SPED co-hort has enabled teachers to acquire degrees and upgrade their skills to deal with the special student population.