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Confusion surrounds administration of Statewide Autism Program

Delaware Public Media

There’s some confusion surrounding management of the state’s autism program.

Lawmakers created a pilot program last year changing its focus to training educators. It was signed in August by Gov. John Carney around the time Statewide Autism Director Vincent Winterling retired.

A fact sheet released by Autism released by Autism Delaware said Winterling had announced his intention to retire more than two years ahead of time. A statement by the Christina School District said it had advertised the position 10 times since October 2016.

Budget Director Mike Jackson and Controller General Mike Morton sent the Delaware Department of Education a memo last October citing language in the new law as reason to move state autism program operations from the Christina School District.

It advised Education Sec. Susan Bunting the program’s vacant statewide director position would be difficult to fill - and the department must act as administrator to get the pilot program operational.

But Jackson said Christina still runs the statewide autism program. He insists this stance has not changed.

“We continue to have the same position that we have had in the past," he said. "There are steps in the process that have to occur where the actual change of the program has to be approved by the State Board of Education. That has yet to happen.”

The statewide director position is reallocated to the Dept. of Education in the governor’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

The State Board of Education’s executive director Jenna Ahner said under Delaware law, it must first approve changing who oversees the program.

Christina School Board member John Young said that’s news to him that Christina is still running the statewide program. The district informed board members late last month that autism program personnel under the statewide director are now DOE employees.

“If the program had not been taken from them, why wasn’t it framed in such a way so they could have communicated this very nuanced message that Mike is trying to get out,” he said.

Autism Delaware Executive Director Brian Hill said he first discovered the operations shift at the budget hearing for Department of Education for the Joint Finance Committee last Thursday. Hill said he doesn’t care who administers the program, he cares about the services for the children. Hill added it would be nice to have more transparency around the state’s actions.

The director position and two training specialist positions funded in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget are vacant, although Christina has contracted with Winterling for his services on a temporary basis. The two positions called for funding in Fiscal Year 2020 are not recommended in Carney's Fiscal year 2020 budget. 

Jackson, DOE and the Christina School District all say they remain in communication about the administration of the Statewide Autism Program.

October OMB-DOE Memo by on Scribd

Autism Memo to CSD BOE by on Scribd

CSD Statement on Statewide ... by on Scribd

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