STERLING – The fiscal year 2015 budget for Bi-County Special Education Cooperative is $907,553 less than this year’s.
Despite the cut in the spending, Bi-County Director Drew Hoffman said no services would be affected.
A main reason for the difference is that the Sterling School District recently pulled its prekindergarten program from Bi-County. That move knocked off $424,438.
“They decided to run the programs on their own,” Hoffman said, adding that other local school districts had done the same thing. “Sterling said we feel we can operate our preschool on our own.”
Taking over that program saved the Sterling School District about $65,000 a year. Its program is housed at Franklin Elementary School.
“We felt we could provide those services in the same high-quality manner that Bi-County did,” Superintendent Tad Everett said.
The move – which takes effect this school year – also will improve the transition into the buildings for students, he said.
“The students are already in our district,” Everett said.
Because of the move, Hoffman said he had to cut speech therapists, which saved about $130,800.
“That was money that I was expending, but Sterling will incur those costs through their local money.”
The balance of about $350,000 in cuts was made up by replacing eight retiring teachers with less-experienced teachers.
“I have been able to replace those retired teachers with lower-salaried employees,” Hoffman said. “Instead of having a therapist that was making $98,000, I’ve been able to bring someone in at $40,000.”
Those savings meant services did not have to be cut. That is important to Hoffman, because special education students have unique needs.
Because they often have individualized education plans that might require a child to have his or her own aide, typical student-teacher ratios don’t apply. Also, speech pathologists, psychologists, audiologists and social workers are needed on staff.
Some of the services that Bi-County offers include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language assistance, and a vision and a hearing specialist. Its programs teach life skills, and work with the deaf or hard of hearing and students with emotional disabilities.
Bi-County, which is housed in Wallace School, 506 W. Fourth St., serves several local school districts: Sterling, Rock Falls High, Rock Falls Elementary, Montmorency, East-Coloma-Nelson in Rock Falls, Morrison, Chadwick-Milledgeville, Eastland in Lanark, Erie, Riverbend in Fulton and Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico.