Next school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District is cutting the budget for psychiatric social workers for special education students by 15 percent, raising fears among the special ed social workers that their numbers will be reduced.
The district denies that it will reduce the overall number of psychiatric social workers, but a spokeswoman would not say how many social workers will be dedicated to special education next year.
"We are not cutting PSWs," said district spokeswoman Monica Carazo in an email. "In essence, we’re reshuffling the PSWs to other departments and the funding will come from different sources," she said, adding, "we are not taking away services from special ed students."
Carazo did not identify the departments to which some psychiatric social worker positions would be moved, but the district is establishing 60 new social workers slots to care for L.A. Unified's more than 8,000 students in foster care.
The budget for special education psychiatric social workers is dipping form $7.8 million in the 2013-14 school year to $6.64 million for the 2014-15 year.
A smaller staff serving special ed kids could lead to larger caseloads for the remaining counselors, which could negatively affect quality of care, said psychiatric social worker John Paul Cabrera.
"It takes away our ability to build good relationships and trust amongst students, families and schools," said Cabrera, who cares for children with ADD and autism as well as those diagnosed with an emotional disturbance - a catchall label for students struggling with mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
"When they shift staff around like this, they should be transparent," Benjamin Conway, a children's rights attorney with Public Counsel, a group that spent months advocating for increasing foster care services.
"The public should know what they are doing," Conway said. "It's entirely possible that this is a benign budget shift, but its impossible to tell because the budget is murky. Burying it a 200-page budget doesn't allow the public to have that kind of input."