January 28, 2009

Santa Barbara School Board Realizes $15/hr is Insufficient for Ombuds Position

The Santa Barbara School Board has been struggling to address the perennial problems that have troubled the district's special education program. In addition to other measures, the school board proposed hiring an Ombuds to serve as a liaison between the district and parents involving special education programs. Although supported by parents, the proposal never gained traction largely because it was advertised as paying just $15 an hour, and requiring only a high school diploma and two years of experience.

Parents wondered how someone with a limited background in the field might stand up to the district and its board on controversial matters. “It’s really just a joke,” said Karolyn Renard, an attorney who specializes in child and family-centered legal advocacy. School Board member Bob Noel agreed that the pay and requirements were insufficient. “My first thing when I saw $15 an hour was, ‘what’?” he said. “Fifteen dollars is not very realistic. It’s more like $50 to $75 an hour. I am not qualified for this job and I have been trying to learn this stuff for quite a few years.” The district board agreed to take another look at the position, increase the salary and better define the position. The proposal will return to the board for a vote. (Santa Barbara Daily Sound.)

Related posts: Santa Monica Schools Considering Ombuds for Special Education Disputes; Job Posting: UC Santa Barbara.

Noel is absolutely right. The district will not be able to attract or retain a qualified and effective Ombuds for $30,000 a year; especially in one of the most expensive regions of the country. The IOA statement on best practices cautions that inadequate pay may jeopardize an Ombuds' independence and advises that “an appropriate level of funding [for an Ombuds Office], be determined by or in consultation with committees representative of various institutional constituencies.” The American Bar Association notes that qualifications are crucial and says that, “An ombuds should be a person of recognized knowledge, judgment, objectivity, and integrity.” The Santa Barbara School Board should realize that this position is important enough to justify significant credentials and a commensurate salary.

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