Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where Shall They Go?

A couple of months ago you probably saw the news story or read in the newspaper that Castle Hill School was closing in Waterloo. Since it doesn't affect most of you, I imagine the news came and went without much of a second thought. Castle Hill is one of three schools in the Cedar Valley that Hudson and many districts in the area use for the delivery of special education services that can't be delivered efficiently by the resident district. Other schools in the Cedar Valley that are used by area districts include River Hills and Bremwood. Hudson currently has students served in all three schools. With the closing of Castle Hill the question becomes, 'Where will we educate those students?' It now becomes the responsibility of each resident district to determine where they will best be served.

Castle Hill serves students in grades K-8 who have special behavior needs.

Students of compulsory age are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This was outlined in public law 94-142, originally passed by Congress in 1975. That has become the basis for our educational system in America. What makes 94-142 unique is the protections it has in place for students with special needs. It essentially states that public school districts must provide a free and appropriate education to all students, regardless of disability. Special education programs are more expensive to operate. Typically they are staffed with much lower student to teacher ratios and have other required features that tend to drive up the cost of operation.

Those students identified as needing special education services are provided with an individualized educational plan (IEP) that spells out exactly what services they are supposed to receive, areas that they are receiving services in, and specific academic or behavioral goals. Because of FAPE and the IEP these students have (yeah, I know-more acronyms), the funding for special education services is different. IEPs are legally binding documents and whatever services are outlined by the IEP, we must provide. So, special education funding does not adversely effect the general fund. Whatever it costs to run the program, the district is able to recover in spending authority.

The funding comes in several different ways. A general education student is weighted at 1.0, which is equivalent to  roughly $6,000 in funding. Depending on the level of services the special education student needs, they are weighted as either a 1.72, 2.21, or 3.74. In addition, the district receives federal funding for the special education program through what is known as Part B. Another important revenue source for special education is Medicaid. If those funding sources are not sufficient to cover the cost, it ultimately is passed back to the local taxpayers after receiving approval from the SBRC (School Budget Review Committee) in Des Moines. This is known as recovering the special education deficit. It is common for school districts in Iowa to have a special education deficit. Ours last year was $62,837, all of which was recovered through SBRC. It is important to remember that no matter what is in the IEP, we are required by federal law to provide those services.

In Hudson, we have an outstanding special education program that works diligently to identify students for services, work with those students to overcome their learning deficiencies, and move them back into the general education setting. The services that we offer in our district serve primarily students who are in level one (1.72) or level two (2.21) programs. That is not to say that we don't have students in level three programs (3.74) because we do. Since we don't have a level three program in our district, we have elected to 'tuition out' those students to other schools. Those students attend school at either Bremwood, River Hills, or Castle Hill.

Now with the closing of Castle Hill we, along with the other area districts in the area are trying to figure out where these students will best be served. Ironically (and uncharacteristically), we currently do  not have any students who are served in the Castle Hill behavior program. However, there are currently somewhere between 3-14 students from area districts that will need placement for the 2013-2014 school year.

Here comes the point that I have once again taken so long to get to! The Board along with the administration and special education staff are deliberating whether or not Hudson should agree to host the behavior program from Castle Hill. In doing so, we would be making quite a commitment! Financially, the cost would be passed back to the resident district. Hudson would only be responsible for the cost of educating our own resident students. Again, at this point we do not have any resident students attending the program, but that is uncommon. In agreeing to host the program, we would take on the responsibility of hiring the staff, setting up classrooms, and administering the program.

You must be wondering, why Hudson? Well, geographically it makes sense because we are centrally located. At this time, we also have space to host the program.

The board has spent several hours discussing and debating the issue, and I am quite proud of the work they have done on this issue. During the discussion they have kept the Core Purpose front and center of the debate, "We Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students'. After all the debate, decision time is coming. But before they make the final decision they want input. Next Monday, on April 22nd, I will be visiting with the SIAC group to discuss the option. We would also love to hear your input.

So the Board and I would love to hear what you have to say about this and answer any questions that you may have before making a decision. The board is scheduled to take final action on this topic at the May 20th board meeting. If you  have questions or comments, please don't hesitate to give me a call.

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