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Sterling schools to make Bi-County exit case

District wants out of special ed co-op

STERLING – A panel today will hear the Sterling school district’s request to leave a cooperative for special education services, which the district hopes will save money. 

The cooperative includes 10 other districts in Whiteside and Carroll counties – six of which voted against letting Sterling leave; the others supported the move.

Tonight, the boards for the Whiteside and Carroll-Stephenson-Jo Daviess regional boards of education will meet to hear Sterling’s case. The boards may decide the issue at the end of the meeting.

It is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Sterling High School library.

The meeting will start with public comment, with each person getting up to 2 minutes to speak.

After public comments, Sterling school officials will present their case to the regional boards, followed by representatives of the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative. For Sterling to prevail, it will need a two-thirds vote of the boards’ members, said Bob Sondgeroth, Whiteside County’s regional superintendent. 

He said he hoped the boards would make their decision tonight. If they don’t, they must vote within 10 days.

“People who will be affected will need to know,” Sondgeroth said. “To have them hang for another week or two doesn’t do anyone any good.”

Second, it’s hard to get the regional boards together, he said.

“I don’t know whether we could get the same people together in 10 days, with some from as far away as Galena,” Sondgeroth said.

If Sterling exits, the cooperative says, its remaining members will likely see their costs rise by 12 percent. Sterling is the largest member.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Illinois school districts formed cooperatives to provide services for special education students. By pooling their resources, they all saved money.

The Sterling district says it can provide such services for itself as effectively as the cooperative, but at less expense. It expects to save $190,000 a year if it leaves.

When districts ask to part ways, regional boards rarely hold public hearings, so it’s not entirely clear what happens next, Sondgeroth said. But he said there is no appeal process with the state school board.

In other places, departures from cooperatives have resulted in litigation.

To attend

The Whiteside and Carroll-Stephenson-Jo Daviess regional boards of education meet at 6:30 p.m. today in the Sterling High School library, 1608 Fourth Ave. 

Call the Whiteside County Regional Office of Education at 815-625-1495 for more information.

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