The Sterling Public Schools Board of Education recently voted to withdraw from the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative. This action was done at a special board meeting on Dec. 27, when many people were away for the holidays. The meeting was at noon, when many people who were around were working.
At a regular board meeting held just 8 days prior, there was no discussion of their desire to withdraw from the cooperative or that they were planning to schedule the special board meeting to vote on withdrawal.
These facts speak volumes.
At the special board meeting, Superintendent Tad Everett stated the administration felt the district could provide all special education services currently provided by Bi-County with the same quality of excellence.
For the most part, I agree with that statement. The vast majority of Sterling’s special education students, those with the least severe disabilities, receive their services in-house from Sterling Public Schools’ own staff members. These children will see few or no changes to their education.
However, what about the small minority of students with the most severe disabilities?
Bi-County’s Thome School is a kindergarten through 12th grade special school for students with behavioral difficulties. A student is sent to Thome School only after all other interventions have been tried in the student’s home school.
I’m a teacher at Thome School, and in my opinion, there’s no way Sterling Public Schools will be able to reproduce in-house the same high-quality special education programming their most severely-disabled students with behavioral problems are currently receiving at Thome School.
We have 22 full-time and two part-time staff members to educate fewer than 60 students. I doubt Sterling will hire enough staff to equal Thome’s current student-to-staff ratio.
There comes a time with many students with behavioral difficulties that they and their parents are just “done” with their current school. They embrace the opportunity to leave the district and go to a brand new school with no staff members from their home district.
It’s often this physical break from the past that is key to the student’s future success.
Sterling Public Schools will never be able to reproduce this key aspect of Thome School. They may be saving $160,000, but this savings will come at the expense of those most severely-disabled students who can least afford it.
Finally, by withdrawing from the cooperative, Sterling Public Schools is turning its back on other districts that are part of Bi-County. The cooperative may survive, but at only two-thirds of our current strength; services for all special education students in all remaining districts will suffer.
If Sterling provides one-third of Bi-County’s budget, then Sterling is also turning its back on one-third of Bi-County’s current staff members who will have to be let go when Sterling withdraws. Mr. Everett stated the district may hire some of those educators, but all of them?
The next step in the process is for every other remaining district in Bi-County to approve or deny Sterling’s withdrawal. The remaining districts should deny Sterling Public Schools withdrawal from the cooperative.
Note to readers – Rob Berry has taught students with emotional disabilities for 15 years as a staff member of Bi-County Special Education Cooperative.