Archive for Thursday, May 31, 2001

Special ed cooperative dissolves

De Soto regroups as Olathe district bows out

May 31, 2001

The Olathe school district's decision to dissolve a nine-year-old special education cooperative will not affect students in the De Soto school district, said De Soto district special services director Joe Vitt.

Since 1992, the special education cooperative has jointly served the De Soto, Olathe, Gardner-Edgerton-Antioch and Spring Hill school districts. Earlier this month, Olathe asked the other district in the cooperative to join it in petitioning the Kansas State Board of Education to dissolve the cooperative.

The De Soto school board complied with that request last week.

The request came after months of discussion, Vitt said.

"Their stance was that the other districts were big enough now to handle this responsibility," he said. "Olathe was also concerned it was getting to the point that they were adding staff on their contracts to provide staffing for us."

Olathe won't be able to simply walk away from the cooperative, Vitt said. It has agreed to provide services for hearing and visually impaired students for at least another year. It will also serve students on an individual basis if their enrollment doesn't require the hiring of new staff members.

With the end of the cooperative, the De Soto, Blue Valley, Gardner and Spring Hill districts will contract with the education cooperative Greenbush to provide a program for students with severe emotional and behavior problems, Vitt said. The program will start this fall at the Countryside Learning Center.

The program shouldn't increase the district's special-education budget because it will no longer have to pay Olathe an administrative fee to manage the cooperative, Vitt said.

"Our expenses should be close to break-even the first year," he said. "As with any brand new program, you have one-time start-up costs for equipment and supplies. After a couple of years, we ought to save money.

"Everything's going to be OK because of our relationships with our other districts."

The districts have had another opportunity to work together this year. Olathe is also leaving a cooperative vocational education program, and De Soto, Blue Valley, Gardner and Spring Hill are among the districts searching for a way to fill that void.

The De Soto school board voted earlier this month to petition the state board to dissolve the special education cooperative. Board members said they had little choice but expressed displeasure with the decision.

"We heard so much from some legislators the last three months that we're wasting money," said board member Sandy Thierer. "I think in this instance they may be right. We had a cooperative that was working that is now being terminated because one district says 'we're big enough.'

"We need to cooperate to share resources and the expense of hiring rare, qualified teachers. This is the second example this year of school districts not working together for the best of all students."

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