Human Services commissioner says 20 instructors for visually impaired to be eliminated

TRENTON – Jennifer Velez, Human Services commissioner, said Thursday the department intends to eliminate 20 instructors for visually impaired and blind students, saying the reduction is commensurate with a smaller caseload.

The department seeks to reduce $1.5 million from the Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Some $8.7 million will still be spent on that program.

The number of students has declined 25 percent from its 2005 level, she told the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee.

The cuts are one of many in the department’s budget, which is 3.2 percent lower, from $5.480 billion to $5.3 billion.

“We need to make the best use of our limited resources,” she said at the beginning of her testimony.

The number of employees in the department has decreased overall from 15,473 employees in 2009 to 14,859 workers in 2011.

Officials said all students currently enrolled in the program will continue to be served, after a question was posed by Assemblyman Gary Chiusano, (R-24), Sussex.

The move is intended to make the program more efficient, increase the number of hours of instruction to the students, and work on a full-year model, instead of a typical 10-month school year, officials said.

There are currently 2,059 students. The number of teachers would go from 65 to 45.

“I pride myself in understanding numbers a little bit. I don’t get this,” Assemblyman Gary Schaer, (D-36), Passaic, said about how the department will still be able to provide more services with less staff.

Vito DeSantis, executive director of the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is part of Human Services, said it will be attained by increasing the number of hours of instruction, from 14.4 hours over two weeks to 21.6 hours of instruction per student.  

Over a two-week period, the students would receive an extra day of instruction, from 8 to 9 days, the department said.

Human Services commissioner says 20 instructors for visually impaired to be eliminated