At a recent Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board meeting, the school board approved an increase of 3.5 FTE (full-time-equivalent) reading specialist positions in the elementary schools within the district for fiscal year 2008-09.

The cost is approximately $280,000 from the district’s general fund, said interim superintendent Tim Cuneo.

Currently, the district has 7.25 full-time-equivalent reading specialists, but most reading specialists are funded by individual schools.

“They use categorical numbers, PTA [Parent Teachers Association] contributions, different kinds of funds [to pay for the reading specialists],” said Sally Chou, the district’s chief academic officer.

However, the district is now giving each elementary school funding to go toward reading specialists — based on the 2006-07 California Standards Tests data of students scoring at the “Below Basic” and “Far Below Basic” levels.

In 2006-07, there were 450 elementary students scoring at these levels in Santa Monica-Malibu.

The schools must maintain their current level of services to students scoring below the “Proficient” level, said Cuneo. Reductions to the current effort may not be made without Cuneo’s approval.

Roosevelt Elementary School will get the most funding, equivalent to an 80-percent full-time-equivalent reading specialist position, as it had the most students scoring at the “Below Basic” and “Far Below Basic” levels, with 125 students.

Edison Language Academy will get the second-most funding, equivalent to a half-time-equivalent reading specialist, as it has 71 students scoring at the “Below Basic” and “Far Below Basic” levels.

Further study will be done during the school year regarding the effectiveness of the services and a recommendation for future staffing will be made at the end of the school year, Cuneo said.

“I’m very proud to approve school funding models that are based on need so that all students receive the support they need to achieve success in our school district,” said school board president Oscar de la Torre.