The head of the department is leaving. Several longtime teachers are retiring. The program’s budget being scrutinized by the school board amid budget talks.

And it seems the transition phase is just beginning for the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s special education department.

The Board of Education on June 11 approved the appointment of Pamela Kazee as the new director of special education in SMMUSD, a title she’ll officially hold starting July 1.

Kazee will replace Sara Woolverton, who has accepted a job in Northern California after six years in the local district. She arrives following a three-year stint as a special education administrator for the Maine Township High School District in Park Ridge, Illinois.

“I am excited to join a progressive district like Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, for which great strides have been made in the area of special education,” she said in a press release. “I look very forward to working with the district’s leadership team and staff to support students with disabilities and their families. After cold Chicago winters, the California sunshine will be very welcoming.”

Kazee, who previously held administrative posts in the Hinsdale Community Consolidated School District in Illinois and the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, also has 15 years of teaching experience, according to the release. She earned a master’s degree in special ed from Eastern Kentucky University and completed doctoral coursework at the University of Kentucky.

Kazee was recently invited to serve as an advisory board member for the National Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative.

In her new job with SMMUSD, she will be tasked with guiding a department whose budget has been closely examined in recent weeks.

In early May, when the district faced a projected $7.4-million deficit in its unrestricted general fund, the school board questioned Woolverton’s recommendation to add the equivalent of about seven new full-time certificated teachers to the roughly $30-million department.

Later that month, after district officials reviewed staffing needs, a revised budget report reflected the elimination of the equivalent of 6.35 full-time positions. The change reduced expenses by more than $380,000 in a budget that projected a $1.07-million surplus in the unrestricted general fund.

A public hearing on the district’s 2015-16 budget is planned for June 24. Final approval of the budget is expected at the June 29 board meeting.

Meanwhile, Kazee will begin her tenure in the district without several department veterans.

School psychologist Jady Von der Lieth, whom Woolverton called “the cornerstone of the SMMUSD early childhood special education team,” is retiring after 45 years in local schools.

Judy Franklin is stepping away after 36 years as a special ed teacher in the district. For the last 21 years she was stationed at McKinley Elementary School, where she led a collaborative special ed preschool program.

And special ed teacher Lisa Berezowsky — who held classroom positions at Will Rogers Learning Community as well as John Muir, McKinley and Franklin elementary schools and Pine Street Child Development Center — is retiring after 19 years in the district.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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