District Audits Special Education Services

The West Des Moines Community Schools recently hired a consultant to review the services it provides to students with special needs.

Board To Review Audit at Public Meeting Aug. 26

Martin J. Ikeda, Ph.D., who is the former director of special education for the Iowa Department of Education, was hired to perform the audit. He said the West Des Moines Community Schools may be the only district in Iowa to have conducted such a review of its services. “The district leadership took a risk in undergoing the audit and should be recognized for their foresight,” he stated.

The purpose of the audit was to answer questions from the School Board about the district’s persistent funding deficit for special education programing.

For many years, the amount of money the government provides the district for special education has failed to meet the actual cost of serving our students with disabilities. The district has a $14 million special education budget and runs an annual deficit in this area of about $2 million. Federal law requires that districts provide students with disabilities the services they need. If the cost of these services is more than the money received, the district is able to finance the deficit through a local property tax.

The audit revealed no quick, easy answer to addressing the deficit. Ikeda said that compared to neighboring districts, West Des Moines is not an outlier for changes in special education enrollment nor changes in Individual Education Plan weightings, or additional funding provided for special education students.

Other findings of the audit are:

  • Services are primarily pull-out, meaning special education students are pulled out of the regular education classroom to provide services.

  • Services match need.

  • Teachers are inconsistent in how they measure present levels of performance and in how they write measurable goals aligned to the Iowa Core.

  • Services are calculated to confer benefit but may not be sufficient for many students to achieve grade-level standards.

  • There is no one answer that accounts for the difference between expenses and revenues, and some changes that might be made might impact revenues but may not impact expenses.

  • If the district enhances its work to close the achievement gap between special education students and regular education students, it is possible expenses could increase.

The district is already taking action to address the findings by identifying next steps. These include:


  • Developing a method to forecast/project future special education expenditures (i.e. personnel, professional development, programs, curriculum)

  • Working with teachers and principals at the building level on special education program entrance and exit criteria and consistent application of the Service Delivery Plan.

Programs, Services and Delivery Model

  • Studying specific variances by building; specifically, entrance/exit criteria, amount, type and intensity of support and the intensity and support aligned to needs.

  • Providing professional development and setting expectations focusing on pre-teaching, progress monitoring, and adjustment of instruction for clearly identified skill deficits.

  • Providing professional development for core plus instruction (closing the achievement gap, specially designed instruction in general and special education classrooms).

  • Studying the specific variability for programs, services and delivery model and clearly defining district-level expectations versus building-level decisions.

  • Identifying what’s working and building on that throughout the district.

The audit will be presented to the School Board on Monday, Aug. 26 at 5:15 p.m. at Walnut Creek Campus, 1020 8th Street West Des Moines. The presentation is open to the public.