Pinelands Regional Schools Superintendent to Meet With Special Education Parents

Meeting Set Up After Special Educational Director Laid Off
Mar 06, 2019

Pinelands Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley will be meeting with parents of special education students at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 7, in the junior high school media center. All are welcome, but McCooley does ask perspective attendees to RSVP online at

She is promising that “all of your special education questions and concerns will be addressed,” and she will discuss recent changes and future plans in the district’s special education program.

The meeting follows the Feb. 26 meeting of the Pinelands Regional Board of Education, where the board approved a “Reduction in Force” and layoff of the district’s director of special education.

During a residents’ forum limited to discussion about agenda items, The SandPaper asked how the director of special education could possibly be laid off when the special education department has far more teachers and staff than any other district department. Board Vice President Patricia Chambers, chairing the meeting in the absence of Board President Susan M. Ernst, responded that she couldn’t comment because it was a personnel issue. Nor would she comment if the position, and not just the person, was being eliminated.

After the board voted to approve the reduction in force, The SandPaper, during the general residents’ forum towards the end of the meeting, again pressed for an explanation, saying a RIF deals with positions, not a personal termination, so the decision should be open for discussion. At that point McCooley interjected.

“So, I’m going to give you an overview of that decision. I’ve been here now since June of 2018. I’ve had the time now to do a careful analysis of all departments, as well as our budgetary concerns, and I’ve decided to move in a different direction.”

Would that direction be a shared-services agreement with the Little Egg Harbor School District, with which the PRSD already shares McCooley and the business administrator?

“It could possibly, moving forward,” said McCooley. “Right now we have a consultant that you saw on the agenda tonight, and he will be here part-time per diem.”

Apparently no parent of a special education student was at Tuesday night’s meeting, but at least one such parent was watching on the district’s website and alerted other special education parents of the layoff. Some parents contacted The SandPaper the next day.

One was upset that McCooley had visited the Feb. 5 meeting of special education parents and had “mentioned nothing about this even being a possibility” and that “no specific plan on how our special needs students services would be coordinated and supervised was proposed” at the meeting.

More parents contacted The SandPaper after being notified of the change in an email two days after the meeting:

“The purpose of this email is to inform you Ellen Ward, Director of Special Services, is no longer with our school district. Tom Hand will be serving as a part-time consultant for the department. The plan moving forward is to have a permanent replacement in 60 days. If you need assistance with your child’s IEP, please contact their caseworkers.”

It could be an interesting meeting on Thursday. One parent said the district had received a $137,565 increase in state aid for special education but had cut special education supplies, textbooks and equipment by $79,939. Some parents were worried that McCooley and the board of education are trying to balance the district’s budget on the back of special education spending.

Rick Mellerup

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