A series of consensus-building sessions in Wisconsin with a small group of 7 stakeholders appointed by the state superintendent with the aim of trying to reach consensus on realigning Wisconsin special education law (Chapter 115) with IDEA 2004 before the bill moves forward to a public hearing.
System Oversight, Infrastructure and Organization: 

Personnel

Mediator and the seven "small group" members including the co-director of WI FACETS (PTIC, CPRC); the president of the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS); a P&A attorney; the coordinator of the Wisconsin Statewide Parent/Educator Initiative; the special education director of the Milwaukee Public Schools; a Wisconsin School Board Association representative, and an attorney from the state teachers' union. The WDPI representative was at the table during the entire process and was committed to trying to reach consensus if possible.

Miscellaneous

In November 2004, the WDPI convened a diverse group of 26 special education stakeholders for the purpose of (1) reviewing and establishing priorities in the WDPI proposed focused monitoring plan, and (2) establishing goals and targets for the State Performance Report. In February 2005, WDPI assigned a new objective to the group, specifically to establish a broad-based consensus on realigning Chapter 115 with IDEA 2004. WDPI indicated to the group that the Department would not support any legislation that was not developed from a consensus position of the entire stakeholder group. Seven months later, in frustration with the lack of progress in reaching the desired broad-based consensus in realigning Chapter 115 & IDEA 2004, the WCASS president serving on the stakeholders group notified WDPI of the school organizations’ intent to unilaterally advance a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would completely “federalize” Wisconsin Chapter 115. As a result, the September 2004 stakeholders group meeting was cancelled. The Wisconsin State Superintendent’s Council on Special Education passed a resolution at their September 2004 meeting to recommend in a letter to the State Superintendent that the Department urge the stakeholders to return to the table. Concerned with the prospect of pitting school organizations against parent advocacy organizations, and ensuing public debate that would most certainly be harmful to special education, WDPI responded with an appointment of a state mediator from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) and selection of a small group of 7 stakeholders to meet in the first mediation session on December 8, 2005 and attempt to reach the desired consensus. By mid January 2006, following three mediation sessions, the school organizations realized that even with the assistance of a state mediator, the stakeholders were not making sufficient progress in reaching the desired consensus and decided to move forward with their federalization bill. The school organizations enlisted the support of Senator Luther Olson, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and asked him to introduce the bill to the Wisconsin legislature. On January 20, 2006 Senator Olson sought legislators’ co-sponsorship for Senate Bill 529 (federalizing Wisconsin Chapter 115). Parent advocacy organizations went on an immediate statewide massive effort, asking their constituents to contact legislators and discourage them from co-sponsoring SB 529. Negotiations at the January 23, 2006 mediation session consequently became more intense. During the mediation session, at the request of the parent advocacy organizations, representatives of the school organizations contacted Senator Olson seeking assurance that a public hearing would not be scheduled until mediation was given a chance to work or within two weeks – whichever comes first. Meanwhile, Senator Olson was able to obtain 43 co-sponsors to SB 529 within five business days. Suddenly, the urgency and seriousness of the legislative situation became apparent to all stakeholders. Negotiations became even more intense. Consensus was reached on February 7, 2006. Parents started with a "position" of about 33 items on the table and the school group had a "position" of complete "federalization." The mediation process resulted in getting movement from both sides. The group reached consensus on 9 items and crafted language that all participants could live with. On February 8, 2006, the small group presented these 9 items and obtained the support of the large stakeholders group. As a result of the mediation process, all testimony at the public hearing on February 14, 2006 reflected unanimous support by all stakeholders. The bill passed unanimously with a vote of 33-0 in the Senate and 99-0 by the Assembly and was signed by the Governor on April 5, 2006.

Practitioner Standards & Professional Development: 

Practitioner Qualifications:

The mediator is from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) and does primarily labor negotiations.

Program Contact

Jan Serak
Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education
Nissan Bar-Lev
Special Education Cooperative Education Service, Green Bay, Wisconsin