State cuts paperwork for special ed teachers

Photo courtesy of Governor’s Office
Melissa Schaller, left, special education director for Intermediate School District No. 917, state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Gov. Mark Dayton compare the original TSES and reduced TSES packets Thursday. Dayton praised the MDE and Cassellius for reducing the amount of forms special education teachers and school districts must complete each year.

ST. PAUL — The state’s special education teachers can spend more time teaching their students and less time filling out forms under a paperwork-reduction effort by the state Department of Education.

Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday congratulated state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and the MDE for reducing excessive paperwork on Minnesota’s special education teachers.

MDE reduced its annual district Total Special Education System (TSES) manual from 279 pages to 16 pages. In addition, a template was provided to school districts to further ease the reporting process. School districts are required to submit those reports annually. Reducing their paperwork by 94 percent helps school districts save both money and valuable time.

“Overloading teachers with unnecessary paperwork does nothing to provide better education for students with special needs,” Dayton said. “Excessive paperwork is the number one complaint I hear from special education teachers everywhere in Minnesota. It takes them out of their classrooms and away from their students.

“To their great credit, Commissioner Cassellius and her staff tackled this problem and found a solution. Their accomplishment is an example of real reform, which matters to Minnesotans,” added the governor

Melissa Schaller, special education director for Intermediate School District  917, is pleased with this reform, saying it makes her job easier and allows schools to focus more time on students and less on paperwork.

“This streamlined manual shows how the Minnesota Department of Education is not only listening, but responding to feedback from educators in the field of special education,” she said. “The streamlined TSES will ease our paperwork burdens and have a positive impact on districts across the state. I look forward to continuing to work with the MDE, focused on improving outcomes for all students.”

This session, MDE will recommend continued improvements to special education reporting by converting the entire TSES process from paper to an online system. This move would create a database that allows for even better accountability and oversight.

“Students with disabilities need as much time as possible with their teachers,” Cassellius said. “By streamlining processes and reducing paperwork, we’ll do a better job at supporting our kids and helping our teachers create the best possible outcomes for every single student.”

In addition to streamlining the TSES, the Department of Education has worked with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to expedite the special education complaint hearing process and avoid delays in resolution. By developing a best practice document for parties and judges, MDE has noticed a 47 percent reduction in extensions. The average length of time from request to decision was almost cut in half; a reduction from 114 days in 2010, to just 69 days in 2012.

Improving the hearing process has saved MDE an estimated 53 percent of what it was spending on court fees during the previous two years. More importantly, this reduction in hearing times demonstrated better outcomes for students with disabilities by delivering faster resolutions for disputes.