STERLING – Sterling Public Schools could withdraw from the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative after having been a member for more than 40 years.
At a special meeting Thursday, the school board will consider a resolution to pull out of the 11-district cooperative effective with the 2014-15 school year.
The district is required, by school code and by its agreement with the cooperative, to give 18 months’ notice of its intent to withdraw from the group. The school board must approve a resolution by Jan. 1 for the withdrawal to take effect at the end of the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2014.
Superintendent Tad Everett said the decision has nothing to do with the cooperative or the quality of services it provides to special education students. He said it has everything to do with money.
“Bi-County has done absolutely nothing wrong,” he said. “This is not a performance issue here. … In our audit, we determined we could do this at a lower cost [by bringing the services in house]. This is a financial decision only.”
The district for more than a year has been “picking apart” its budget and conducting financial assessments of all of its programs and services, Everett said. The district so far has negotiated new contracts with its transportation provider, its food service provider, and its teachers and staff. The withdrawal from the special education cooperative simply is one in a series of possible money-saving moves for the district, he said.
Bi-County Director Drew Hoffman said it would be “sad” to see Sterling leave the group. He said teachers have “anxiety” about the impending decision because it could mean job cuts for the organization.
“I firmly believe that even with Sterling withdrawing, we would remain solvent,” he said “[We] are very understanding of why this happened. The fiscal climate in Illinois for school funding is at an all-time low. … Every dime counts. Every superintendent is being very fiscally responsible to their constituents.”
The Bi-County Special Education Cooperative provides services to emotionally and developmentally challenged and otherwise handicapped students. It provides speech therapy and occupational therapy and supplies social workers and psychologists. It also manages the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds for all the districts in the cooperative.
Cooperative members include nine districts in Whiteside County and two in Carroll County.
Sterling Public Schools is the largest customer of the cooperative; it provides about one-third of the revenue to the organization, Hoffman said. Last year, the district paid $1.8 million to the cooperative, including its share of IDEA funding, Everett said.
The district estimates it could save $160,000 a year; it might not save that much right away, as the district will have to hire a special education director, a secretary and several teachers, as well as add, convert or rent space, Everett said. But the district maintains it would save money over the long term, he said.
Hoffman said Bi-County would have to cut some jobs as a result of the move. But Everett said Sterling likely would receive applications from former cooperative staff and very likely would hire some of them.
Everett said the decision is not one he and the school board are taking lightly.
“I’ve had e-mails all week long about how Bi-County serves a great need and that we need to rethink this,” he said. “I concur completely. … But this is a business decision, and it’s a significant one.”
The Sterling School Board will meet at noon Thursday, Dec. 27, in the high school library, 1608 Fourth Ave., Sterling.
Go to www.sterlingpublicschools.org/board/agenmin.htm or call 815-626-5050 for an agenda or more information.