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School Board Picks Returning Veteran to Head Special Education

By Teresa Rochester

Tim McNulty is coming home.

After 10 years as director of the special education division at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, McNulty, a 20-year veteran of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, will reprise his role as the district's head special education administrator on Sept. 1.

After nearly two hours of closed session debate the Board of Education Tuesday night selected McNulty over one other candidate as the district's new Assistant Superintendent of Student Services in a 5 to 1 vote (Board Member Margaret Quinones dissented and Board President Todd Hess was absent).

McNulty held a similar position with the district until 1991, when he landed a job with the County, where he oversees 2,100 employees, 10,000 students, 200 schools in 65 districts and a $130 million budget. The district position was disbanded and revived earlier this year in the wake of controversies surrounding special education over the past two years.

In his new position McNulty will be charged with overhauling the district's beleaguered special education program, which was placed on a state monitoring list earlier this year for not complying with state laws.

Financial issues also have plagued special education. With state and federal funding for legally mandated programs falling well short of the costs, the district has relied heavily on funds from its general budget to fill the gap.

"I want to thank you for listening and for your confidence and support," McNulty told the board in a brief five-minute public session Tuesday evening. "I feel like I'm coming home and coming home with a passion…. I think I'm up to the challenge. I know I'm up for the challenge."

A Santa Monica native who graduated from Saint Monica's High School, McNulty is a no nonsense administrator who outlined his priorities after the board's meeting. His long laundry list of immediate things to do includes reviewing the district's compliance with state and federal laws, improving external and internal communication, drumming up new sources of funding and banishing voice mail in his office.

McNulty said he will schedule a series of meetings with parents and staff at each school to open the lines of communication. He said he also will work closely with the Special Education District Advisory Committee.

"I want the district advisory council to work with me in creating a handbook for parents, by parents," McNulty said, adding that the book will mirror a teacher's handbook.

One of the McNulty's primary responsibilities outlined in the position's job description is to generate more revenue. McNulty said he plans to seek grants from the County, state and federal governments.

"I'm going to be recommending that the Special Education Local Program Area revise their revenue allocation plan to ensure that Santa Monica/Malibu, along with the other two districts [in the program] are getting their fair share," McNulty said.

He also said he will look at different types of teacher training "to get a better bang for the buck," and he will seek out resources from agencies like the County Department of Mental Health.

One of McNulty's first orders of business will be to purge his office of voice mail. It is something he is passionate about.

"I'll make sure there is a human voice answering the phone," he said. "We need to communicate with people and get back to them in a reasonable amount of time. I have a real thing against voice mail. I'm on a mission. When the call is relative to a student it needs to be taken care of quickly."

McNulty also plans to work with both mainstream and special education teachers to ensure they have proper support and resources at their disposal.

"I don't believe in dump and hope," McNulty said. "It's not fair to students. It's not fair to teachers and it's not fair to parents."

McNulty will earn between $100,000 to $110,000 in his new position, according to district staff. The position will be funded in part by a vacant administrative position. According to a district report, staff believes that within a year an alternative funding source may become available to offset any additional costs. Superintendent Neil Schmidt said those funding sources have not yet been nailed down.

McNulty -- an avid off-road and on-road motorcyclist and former beach lifeguard -- will assume his new position this Friday.

"This is an opportunity for me to come back and be part of the community, a community that I feel vested in," McNulty said. "I plan to have an action plan in place by the holidays with goals and objectives that I will hold myself accountable for."

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