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Study looks at Sterling’s possible withdrawal

Will co-op costs go up or down for group’s remaining members?

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

MORRISON – For districts in the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative, it all boils down to one thing:

Can the cooperative provide quality services to special needs students at a reasonable cost?

The cooperative is wrestling with a request from the Sterling Public Schools to withdraw from the organization, effective with the 2014-15 school year. Sterling estimates it could save more than $160,000 a year by shifting services from the cooperative to the district.

Bi-County Executive Drew Hoffman presented the findings of a cost study at a special board meeting Tuesday. The purpose of the study, based on projected enrollment and anticipated staff needs, was to determine the effect the withdrawal would have on the remaining districts.

One superintendent argued that the cooperative has a responsibility to maintain services at their current costs.

“If I can tell them that this is cost-neutral and we can offer the same things to our kids and Sterling can save money, then I would recommend approval,” Eastland Superintendent Mark Hansen said. “But if I have to tell them that this has a significant increase in cost or we will lose programs and services, then I might recommend denial.”

Districts would have to take money from other programs otherwise, he said.

But other superintendents argued that the cooperative cannot provide the same level of service at the same cost.

“It’s not a realistic expectation to lose a third of the students and staff in the organization and peel everything back that much and still be 100 percent as cost-effective,” Erie Superintendent K. Bradley Cox said. “I think that’s totally unrealistic, unless you’re willing to accept some decrease in services.”

The cooperative should strive to maintain quality services at a reasonable cost, even if that means a “slight increase,” he said.

Hoffman recommended several program and staff adjustments, based on projected enrollment.

He suggested the life skills program, now housed in Rock Falls, Sterling and Morrison, be moved entirely to Morrison. The move could save districts money on transportation.

He suggested the preschool program be split into three sites, one to serve the Chadwick-Milledgeville and Eastland districts, one to serve East Coloma and Montmorency schools, and one to serve the Erie and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico districts.

He also suggested the cooperative share some providers with the Ogle County cooperative or contract with those providers through the Northwest Illinois Association.

Hoffman addressed the deaf/hard of hearing program, which will serve only two students. The cooperative could cease to provide the program, and those students could attend a program in Geneseo; or the cooperative could make its hearing itinerant full time, and she could serve those students.

He also addressed administrative costs, for which each member district is billed based on its share of students.

“I didn’t like that increase,” Hoffman said. “I think it can be massaged.”

He suggested social workers and psychologists be taken out of administrative costs and added as a program cost, which districts would pay based on their use of services.

“Will it save you money? I can’t say it would,” Hoffman said. “But at least you would have some ownership [of that cost].”

The 10 remaining districts in the cooperative – eight in Whiteside County and two in Carroll County – now must approve the withdrawal petition. If at least one of the member districts denies it, the matter would go before the regional boards that represent the member districts.

School boards do not have to approve or deny the request by a certain date.

“Do you want to go through the motions just to go through them and unfairly stretch this out?” Whiteside County Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth said.

A few superintendents indicated they would start the conversation with their school boards in the next month, although they said they might not recommend their boards vote on the request until some outstanding issues are resolved.

Proposed changes

Life skills

– 56 students requiring five teachers and 13 paraprofessionals, a reduction of three teachers and 14 paraprofessionals

– Projected program cost: $542,074; current program cost: $951,633

– Projected cost per student: $9,680; current cost per student: $11,002

Emotionally disabled (Thome School)

– 31 students requiring three teachers, seven paraprofessionals and a half-time social worker, a reduction of a principal, three teachers, seven paraprofessionals and a half-time social worker

– Projected program cost: $499,763; current program cost: $879,442

– Projected cost per student: $16,121; current cost per student: $17,000

Preschool

– 50 students requiring three teachers and six paraprofessionals, a reduction of three teachers and two paraprofessionals

– Projected program cost: $425,444; current program cost: $894,679

– Projected cost per student: $8,500; current cost per student: $7,000

Deaf/hard of hearing

– Two students requiring two teachers, a reduction of an educational interpreter

Vision

– 14 students requiring a half-time itinerant, that is, a service provider who travels between schools, a reduction of a half-time teacher

Hearing

– 11 students requiring a half-time itinerant, a reduction of a half-time teacher

Occupational therapy

– 55 students requiring two therapists, a reduction of a therapist, who is on contract for 2 days a week

– Projected program cost: $120,000; current program cost: $139,631

– Projected cost per student: $2,182; current cost per student: $1,535

Physical therapy

– 14 students requiring a half-time therapist, a reduction of a half-time therapist

Orthopedically impaired

– 18 students requiring one teacher, a reduction of one teacher

– Projected program cost: $65,000; current program cost: $134,035

– Projected cost per student: $3,611; current cost per student: $3,269

Speech therapy

– 117 students requiring two and a half therapists, a reduction of three therapists and two paraprofessionals

– Projected program cost: $166,996; current program cost: $372,001

– Projected cost per student: $1,427; current cost per student: $1,755

Source: Preliminary cost study, conducted by Bi-County Executive Director Drew Hoffman

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