Crisfield Responds to Concerns with New Parent Advisory Committee

Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield writes a letter to the editor in response to MSPEC's comments in the most recent board meeting.

After a strong reaction from the Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (M-SPEC), at the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 14, to the formation of a new parent advisory committee for special education, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield responds in the letter to the editor below:

January 17, 2013

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly clear up some misunderstandings and answer some questions, to the extent I can in public, concerning a recent call for volunteers for the new “Special Education Parent Advisory Group” in the Millburn public schools.

On January 11, 2013, we sent out a call for volunteers for this new group.  The purpose of the group is to “provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities” as required by NJ special education code (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.2(h)).  The group will have representation from each school building and from each program (e.g., PreK, ABA, self-contained, etc.) as well.  The selection process will be finalized and published shortly—Livingston has an excellent process in place that we are studying to see if we can adapt for use here.

Prior to this time, the district has been meeting the requirement for parent input through the Millburn-Short Hills Special Education Committee (commonly known as “M-SPEC”).  This organization has been in existence for years and has provided (and continues to provide) many important services to the families of children with special needs.  However, recently, M-SPEC has changed to a fundraising entity, and in addition the balance between “advocating” and “advising” has shifted towards an emphasis on the former.  As a result, the need for a more independent “advisory” group, without any possible conflicts of interest, has arisen.

One very important point is M-SPEC is not being disbanded.  Rather, M-SPEC will continue to exist and provide advocacy and support services to parents and families.  We are simply setting up a parallel, independent group that will focus solely on providing helpful, collaborative and constructive (which can certainly be critical if need be) ideas and observations and concerns to us regarding the district’s special education program.  It is possible for a parent to be a member of this new group and of M-SPEC at the same time, as there is no intent to isolate one or the other group.

Lastly, I have received criticism recently when I decline to provide detailed reasons as to why we are converting our source of advice from M-SPEC to this new, independent group.  I understand the frustration of M-SPEC supporters who disagree with this decision and who don’t understand why I continue to stay silent with many of the details.  However, sometimes the right decision is not the easy or obvious one, and sometimes the reasons for a decision don’t lend themselves to public discourse.  This is one such time on both of those fronts.  It is my responsibility to protect privacy rights, and to protect the interests of the district, broadly defined.  I will continue to do both of those things to the best of my ability, even if it means absorbing public criticism without being able to respond.

James A. Crisfield, Ed.D.


Millburn Township Public Schools


KR January 17, 2013 at 08:25 PM
AParent....I think it is hard to take a person seriously when they are rude and disparaging in their comments. It is more than fine to disagree with each other and have discourse about it, but the name calling is unnecessary and counterproductive. I am new to this community and find this quite disheartening.
Joel January 17, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Dr. Crisfield continues to use his "letters to the editor" as a venue for communicating to township residents, not as a means of diversion. I believe his top priority is to do what is best for students, parents and teachers of the district! It is not an easy job and he excels at what he does.
JGF January 17, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Oh, I don't know that about that. Beyond the same twenty people, there is not much of an outcry. I think a lot of people in this town can read between the lines.
JGF January 17, 2013 at 08:42 PM
I agree. I think he's great. Leadership, excellent communications and sound judgement.
JGF January 17, 2013 at 08:42 PM
While I agree with your assessment of Dr.Crisfield, I cannot and will not post my real name. I value my privacy.
JGF January 17, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Wow, if you represent the parents in question, then I now have an even better clue of what Dr. Crisfield is dealing with and why he is looking otherwise. I see nothing wrong with inviting new people into the conversation. Good for the administration for protecting students and widening the scope of who they talk to.
Milke Millburn January 17, 2013 at 09:31 PM
JS it's great to see how you avoid touching the topic of Dr. Crisfield's disgraced past at Warren BOE. Why don't you touch on that??
Milke Millburn January 17, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Here it is for everyone that does not already know http://nj.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.20080304_0000365.DNJ.htm/qx And that case was settled in favor of plaintiff Great hire Millburn BOE!!!
Hilldy January 17, 2013 at 10:09 PM
sms January 17, 2013 at 10:10 PM
If you look at the list of MSPEC programming, the majority of it deals with providing information and support to parents. MSPEC's new "fundraising" allows them to provide speakers and workshops. Previously, MSPEC was funded by donations from each of the PTOs in town. The change in funding did not change their mission. Dr. Crisfield and the Director of Special Services are looking for parents to rubber stamp their decisions, no matter how deficient. We don't provide the best in education when we don't listen to differing points of view. The costs of special ed may be rising, but how much of that is due to litigation costs arising from the director of special services not fulfilling the requirements of students IEPs and in purchasing programs for the special ed population that are not designed for special ed? Dr. Crisfield should show us the amount of money the district has paid out over the last 5 years in settlement costs and in legal fees, yet those numbers are buried in the Special Ed budget.
sms January 17, 2013 at 10:12 PM
There but for the grace of God Washington Dad.
KR January 17, 2013 at 11:57 PM
I have been following the programming over the year, and I have to say that some of it made me uncomfortable. My understanding is that one of the speakers has something of a contentious history with the district, and there was another program presented by lawyers. While I also understand that they were presenting relevant information, both speakers, by way of their jobs, are often times at odds with school districts. This seems like a mixed message to me-getting information from the very people who make money working on the other side. I also think having another group gives the community an opportunity to bring more information and viewpoints, not fewer. I would think that is a good thing.
MarkDS January 18, 2013 at 12:14 AM
Beware wading into the morass that is MSPEC. A great soap opera of backbiting and double dealing could be made out of it.
Sophie January 18, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Hi Mandy, Lawyers at special education meetings? That sounds awful. How could this be allowed in our town? What will these people do next? Invite Communists and Satan Worshippers to speak at their meetings? Don't they have any limits?
KR January 18, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Sophie-I assume you think your comments are funny, though I find them sarcastic and a bit disrespectful. They also contribute nothing of any value to the conversation. I am well aware that lawyers are often a part of the process. But, in the educational setting of a parent talk I feel it may send a message that there is no other way to get things done. I know that is not the intent, but it is possible for that feeling to be inadvertently generated.
Xavier January 18, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Dr. Crisfield: please release the percentage of special ed students in this district and their cost. Also please give a comparison to other districts' numbers. It seems that so many students in this town are special ed. Why? I don't want it to bankrupt our district.
Sophie January 18, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Hi Mandy, OMG! I thought you were just joking when you said "and there was another program presented by lawyers". It just sounded like a SNL parody and I wanted in on the fun. I am so sorry and I didn't mean to ridicule you or your comments, but now I see where you're coming from. Don't you think that if the M-SPEC people shouldn't get advice from lawyers, the same should be expected from the district and the district shouldn't seek advice from their lawyers in special ed meetings with parents? It'll be a sort of mutual disarmament agreement. What do you think?
Hilldy January 18, 2013 at 02:22 PM
We are no different than other districts in this area. I remember this question being asked once before.
WRR January 18, 2013 at 05:01 PM
M-SPEC essentially withdrew their relationship with the BOE once they became a fundraising 501c3 organization. Prior, they received funding from each school's PTO now, they are raising funds from private entity. They are ADVOCATING change as evident from their sponsorship of the BOE Candidate Forum this past election. This can be construed as "lobbying". This is direct contradition to their previous role of ADVISING which would be providing their opinion and advice. Since they now have voluntarily taken on the role of advocating, the BOE needs to separate their relationship to maintain the unbiased parity for ALL students; Special Needs or not. Otherwise, the perception that the BOE is working with an advocate (special interest) group might inadvertantly show bias and potential litigation from other group(s).
sms January 18, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Sorry WRR, that is a red herring. The PTOs are all 501(c)(3) fundraising entities, and the district deals with them. How about the Ed Foundation, which also obtained 501(c)(3) status? It is my understanding that the Board of Ed did not provide funding to MSPEC, rather funding was provided by PTO Conference. As for the "contentious" educational advocate, she has spoken many times for MSPEC and its predecssor organization over the years. She is renowned expert in the State for Special Ed matters. I would also like Dr. Crisfield to spell out Special Ed funding. How much do we receive from the State for Spec Ed each year? Does that money go into the general education fund or is it ear-marked for special ed? How much do we receive in tuition from out of district students, and how is that money accounted for in the budget? How much of the Special Ed budget is due to litigation costs associated with settlements and legal fees? For those of you worrying about "them" bankrupting "us," the District is required by law to provide special ed to any student that qualifies for it.
JBL January 18, 2013 at 06:34 PM
If the district did not want to hear from special education parents, it could have easily met with spec and then ignored everything they had to say and call it a day--legal requirement met. Instead, they are forming a new avenue for input. too much fuss over nothing at all
WRR January 18, 2013 at 07:00 PM
PTO and Ed Foundation provide for the common good; M-SPEC is a special interest group. The work of the PTOs and Ed Foundation provides for the entire public academic community, equally. M-SPEC has a very specific objective for a specific group and does not benefit the whole. Once M-SPEC "broke away" from the PTO and created its own organization, they became a special interest group with private fund raising outside of the public school environment. I am neither against Special Ed nor am I or had I suggested that Special Ed programs are a financial burden. I believe every student deserve to obtain the best education possible. With that said, I firmly believe that the BOE should remain unbiased - maintain equality for all.
greengirl January 18, 2013 at 07:18 PM
JFG, the same vocal 20 people speak for many more who silently stand behind them. As in many situations, not everyone is comfortable putting themselves in the midst of a contentious situation. I am thankful for those that put themselves out there to voice the concerns of the Millburn residents who do not feel the BOE candidates represent their position or acknowledge and work with those that do not share their views. I wish there was a better protocol for the BOE to respond to concerns of the public voiced at the meetings and get back to them with answers or solutions.
Xavier January 18, 2013 at 07:24 PM
I don't believe that our percentage of special ed students and their cost are similar to other districts. Why are most of the kids on my street in special ed (as reported by their parents). Why do people write on the work mom listserv about good special ed lawyers. Something is really wrong here. It seems like Crisfield recognizes it. Why would I want my taxes to go to people who game the system? I know that there are legit special ed cases but come on, look around and talk to people in this town and you will realize what's going on pretty quickly. If your kid can't be g & t your lawyers and doctors can make them special ed so they get all kinds of accommodations and still get into Lehigh or wherever.
JFC January 19, 2013 at 06:20 AM
To WRR-what is "the PTO" that M-SPEC broke away from? I thought there were a number of organizations in the district, at least one at each building (at least 2 at the buildings with the preschool) that call themselves Parent Teacher Organizations. I was under the impression that each PTO advocates for themselves by advising the board on issues concerning their respective members- not issues concerning the "entire public academic community". How does the Deerfield PTO's advocacy for relief from Deerfield's oversized classes benefit the students in Wyoming? And why does Crisfield continue to advocate that the class sizes are fine the way they are? With his competing interest, I wouldn't want Crisfield hand-picking the "official" group of Deerfield parents advising the district on issues concerning Deerfield students. And there is only a limited amount of space in the district. If one school's PTO successfully advocates for redistricting to achieve smaller classes, it means they are passing the issue on to another school's PTO to deal with. All the PTOs engage in fundraising, and all donations go through the BOE. We all liked to pretend that the board could remain impartial despite the disparity in funds the different schools raise and donate. Now that Crisfield confirmed that the fundraising compromises independence and creates a conflict of interest, it will be hard not to be skeptical seeing which school's PTO will get the most on their budget wish list.
Sophie January 19, 2013 at 10:10 AM
I think Dr. Crisfield is doing a wonderful job in communicating all of his positions to the community through Patch and The Item, but why didn't Dr. Crisfield also tell us about that recently lost special ed case that Mspec wrote about? That's something of importance to the community since we're the ones paying for it.
sms January 19, 2013 at 07:46 PM
I would also like the District to detail the efforts that have been made to rectify the deficiencies that were detailed with specificity in the lawsuit, so that we the community won't be subject to making payments for future misfeasance. I think we have a right to know how much of the special ed budget each year goes to legal fees and settlements. And if that number is significant, then what changes are we making to ensure that the district isn't subject to future lawsuits.
Marty Wilson January 23, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Just got an e-mail re: an Ed Foundation event with Crisfeld and Siegel - it is $100/person for a good topic - stress in school transitions (open to parents of kids in 5/8/12). why isn't this open to the public? why is it a ridiculous $100 (hoity toity food selection they say). do the people who go get special access to crisfeld and siegel once go to this event the same way special interest groups get special access to politicians? why can't m-spec run an event like this - or did they do something to 'upset' dr. c? maybe theirs can be $200. does anybody else see this as a slippery slope towards bribing, I mean contributing to our educators for access?
Marty Wilson January 23, 2013 at 03:43 PM
and what's with the one-day notice? did the event invite go out to vip's earlier and then to the rest of us with 24 hour notice? what gives?
Volunteer January 23, 2013 at 04:09 PM
They sent out a district wide invite a few weeks ago. Just trying to help our schools. Thanks for the support.


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