7 districts involved in special ed program

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

School districts sign on for innovative local strategy

Seven area school districts have now officially joined the Monett Regional Special Services consortium, offering special education services to qualifying students from those districts.

Pierce City was the final district to approve paperwork last week. Students from Monett, Purdy, Verona, Cassville, Mt. Vernon and Aurora that also have severe emotional or behavioral issues or chronic behavioral difficulties, or those on the autism spectrum or suffer developmental disabilities, who are typically transported to educational centers in Springfield, Carthage or Joplin, are eligible to attend.

The behavioral program and the autism program, a collaborative effort set up similar to the Scott Regional Technology Center, offers services to students who have limited success in general education environments in their home school districts due to special needs.

Services are expected to begin with the start of the 2019-2020 academic year in August. During the January meeting of the Monett school board, Teena Fare, Monett special services director, said she planned to begin meeting with representatives of the participating school districts to assess the numbers and needs of students each planned to send to Monett. With that information, she expected to advertise for needed staff in February.

Monett School Superintendent Russ Moreland, who spearheaded the project, figured the operation would have four or five teachers and paraprofessionals. The Monett school board would likely not award contracts until its March meeting.

The consortium would not accept more students than the facilities could handle, Moreland said. Located south of the main building at Monett Elementary and on the west end of the center courtyard, the building planned for the program was where Moreland said he first taught when he began his career. The building had five rooms that could accommodate 100 sixth graders.

“The building is pretty good size, but teachers will have much smaller classes than we had back then,” Moreland said. “It’s a good solid building, perfect for this.”

Maintenance crews in recent weeks have removed material stored in the building since it went out of active use, and are in the process of replacing the heating and air conditioning system as well as painting.

While modeled on the program developed by the Beacon organization, Monett’s program would not be affiliated with Beacon. The teaching partnership with Crowder College through the Maddox Hill Center would provide leadership and hands-on operation.

According to the contract approved by each participating school board, each district will designate a representative to make timely decisions on behalf of the consortium. The representative will also attend quarterly business meetings and monthly review meetings.

A majority of the funding for the program will be apportioned to each member district, based on their percentage of total student enrollment days. The fee for administrative costs to run the programs, an estimated $25,000 annually, will be split among the six sending schools, if they have students enrolled, and go to the Monett District, the designated fiscal agent.

Services will not be available to students from non-member districts.

Transportation of students to the programs remains the responsibility of the sending district, as is the current obligation for students enrolled in centers at Joplin and Springfield.

One of the secondary benefits to the Monett program is a significant reduction in the amount of travel time for sending schools transporting students to Monett instead of Joplin or Springfield.

“Pierce City District has one student attending classes in Carthage,” said Dr. Kelli Alumbaugh, superintendent. “Our biggest savings will come from transportation in the distance traveled.”

Alumbaugh said decisions for students attending the Center will be made in a collaborative effort between the district and the Center, and will be determined on a student-by-student basis. The process includes observations and collaborations between the district, the center, the parents and the Individualized Education Program team.

Alumbaugh reassured board members the Pierce City District would still have the fall back of attending Beacon Schools, of which they are already members. The board tentatively accepted the agreement with Monett’s program with the caveat Alumbaugh obtain more information.

The Beacon model helped to sell the Purdy school district on the program. Purdy Elementary Principal Julie Dalton said more children with autism issues were coming into school districts in general, putting special education teachers in high demand. Beacon, she noted, specializes in actions and behaviors and would work to decrease inappropriate behaviors so that students could return to a regular classroom setting.

“Kendale [Ellis, special education process coordinator for the Purdy district] and I have talked about this,” Dalton said. “We’re hitting a wall on where we can go from here. I’ve dealt with kids who have gone to Beacon and come back successful.”

Purdy Superintendent Steven Chancellor said he and Moreland talked in past years about developing a program for high needs students who have been transported to Springfield or Joplin at significant expense to the local districts.

“This will be a stop-gap, a middle layer between what we can’t provide and the state school,” Chancellor said. “I think this will be an invaluable resource. It will allow us to help a handful of kids with what we can’t provide now.”

While Chancellor saw three or four students in the Purdy district who could benefit from the program, the Verona school district hesitated to sign on until the administrative costs for the program were explained in greater detail. Board members had no concern once they understood each district would pay only for the students it sends, and pay nothing if no students participate.

“I see this as a win-win,” said Superintendent Tony Simmons. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”

The Beacon program, he noted, charges around $200 a day, which is a comparable cost to the district for hiring a one-on-one paraprofessional for a student. At the present time, Simmons did not see any Verona students who would participate in the new program. Verona would be the smallest district in the consortium.

One additional change may come to Monett’s program. Monett board member Brian Hunter suggested at the January school board meeting that the operation needed “an inspirational name,” something more than “behavioral center” as an encouraging moniker for the public.

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