STERLING – Three school districts so far have rejected a request from Sterling Public Schools to withdraw from the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative.
Now, Sterling may appeal to the regional boards that represent the districts in the cooperative. Then, an advisory committee will review the petition and recommend a response on the part of the cooperative.
Sterling has filed a petition to withdraw from the cooperative, 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.
Superintendent Tad Everett has said that the decision has nothing to do with the services of the cooperative, but rather, everything to do with finances.
The 10 remaining districts in the cooperative – eight in Whiteside County and two in Carroll County – have to approve or deny the request.
Since March, the Chadwick-Milledgeville, Montmorency and River Bend (Fulton) school districts have approved the move; the Eastland, Rock Falls Elementary and Morrison school districts have denied it.
Four districts – East Coloma, Erie, Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico and Rock Falls High School – still must weigh in on the petition. Those school boards do not have to approve or deny the request by a certain date, although Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth has asked them to vote at their May meetings.
Sterling now must file a petition to withdraw with the regional boards that represent the member districts, the Whiteside County and Carroll-Jo Daviess-Stephenson County regional boards.
Bi-County Executive Director Drew Hoffman already has formed an advisory committee comprised of superintendents and staff from the cooperative to review Sterling's withdrawal petition and make a recommendation on the cooperative's collective response.
Committee members are Eastland Superintendent Mark Hansen, Erie Superintendent K. Bradley Cox and Morrison Superintendent Suellen Girard, as well as Danielle Reed, a social worker, Jennifer Curran, a high school hearing impaired instructor, and Rhonda Veracini, an orthopedically impaired instructor.
The committee likely will meet sometime this month; however, it cannot meet until Sterling files an appeal with the Regional Office of Education.
Eventually, both Sterling and Bi-County will present their cases at a joint meeting of the two boards.
Sondgeroth said if Bi-County collectively agrees to the withdrawal, then the regional boards likely also will agree to it; however, if Bi-County collectively denies the withdrawal, then the regional boards could vote either way.
A majority of both regional boards must approve the request, and Sterling must notify the state by Jan. 1, 2014, in order for the withdrawal to be effective July 1, 2014.
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.
Sterling Public Schools currently is the largest customer of the cooperative; it provides about one-third of the revenue to the organization.