Education agencies sue supervisors

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By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

Saying there's a violation of education law, two of the county's special education agencies are suing the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

The suit, filed on Valentine's Day by the Tri-County Special Education Local Plan Area and the Tuolumne County Special Education Unit, demands funding for some special education programs be reinstated after the board voted to cut off money last month.

Under a state law called Assembly Bill 3632, counties must cover the mental health costs included in a free and appropriate public education for children who need help getting the most out of their education.

County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva warned the Board of Supervisors the lawsuit was on its way if the board voted to suspend the AB 3632 money without trying to find alternative sources of funding.

But after Gov. Gray Davis announced the state's $35 billion deficit, the board unanimously voted at its Jan. 14 meeting to stop paying for the programs, which last year cost the county more than $100,000.

Silva filed a court document indicating he will testify against the supervisors if called upon.

The suit names the Board of Supervisors, County Counsel Gregory Oliver, Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Director Bea Readel, County Administrative Officer C. Brent Wallace and each of the five supervisors individually Jim Peterson, Paolo Maffei, Larry Rotelli, Richard Pland and Mark Thornton for discontinuing the funds.

The federally mandated mental health programs have been a drain on county coffers for years, because state reimbursement never comes close to the actual amount spent. The cost varies each year, though it's usually more than $100,000. But the state has only been kicking in about $14,000, and in the last two years, the governor has suspended that reimbursement.

The county had been worried the money would never come, but Davis has said the payments are only postponed, and that counties must keep paying for the services.

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The Union Democrat
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