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Disagrees with departure from Bi-County co-op

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Sterling Public Schools is attempting to withdraw from Bi-County Special Education Cooperative.

When they first started this process, Tad Everett, their superintendent, said it was strictly about money. The district would save around $160,000 of the approximately $1.7 million a year they pay Bi-County. This money pays for the wide variety of services that Bi-County provides to District 5 for all of their students with disabilities, and especially for the 88 of their students with the most severe disabilities.

Those students are currently educated in Bi-County programs. A savings of $160,000 seems like a lot, almost 10 percent of their special education costs. However, the district’s total expenditures are around $39 million a year, so a savings of $160,000 is really only about four-tenths of 1 percent.

Staffing issues are an important consideration as Sterling attempts to leave the cooperative. For certified staff, they have projected hiring at a minimum 12 teachers, psychologists, and social workers, and at a maximum, 17.

Mr. Everett has stated they want to hire staff with master’s degrees and 6 years’ experience. Based on their current salary schedule, which pays such qualified educational staff $46,310 a year, those certified staff members will be paid anywhere from about $555,000 at a minimum to $787,000 at a maximum.

The difference between those two numbers is in itself well more than the $160,000 they have projected the district would save by leaving the cooperative. Something seems fuzzy.

I understand times are tough, especially for educational systems in Illinois. School districts owe their constituents a high degree of fiscal responsibility.

However, Mr. Everett has stated previously that withdrawing from the cooperative would not even initially save them money. How is that fiscally responsible?

Note to readers: Rob Berry has taught students with emotional disabilities for 16 years as a staff member of Bi-County Special Education Cooperative.

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