It was a topic on the agenda for two area school boards Monday night, a topic very close to the hearts of a handful of parents in both districts.
The issue was services for special education and special needs students in the newly formed Central Plains Unified School District 112, formed by the consolidation of the Claflin and Lorraine school systems. These students in Claflin are currently served by Barton County Cooperative of Special Education, which also serves Ellinwood, Great Bend, Hoisington, and the Otis-Bison district.
"We want to assure parents we are not abandoning these kids," said Steve Woolf, USD 112 superintendent. His board along with the Great Bend USD 428 board independantly discussed the matter.
Central Plains is seeking and will likely reach an agreement with the Salina-based Central Kansas Cooperative in Education to take in the five counties in USD 112. The sprawling co-op already includes students in Wilson, Ellsworth County and reaches as far as Abilene.
There are 47 special needs students with a wide variety of mental and physical disabilities in USD 112. Four of those students (all from the Claflin area) are bussed to Great Bend for services.
Under the proposed agreement, the Salina co-op would contract with the Barton County co-op to work with the four students, and pay for their care. The balance would be served by Salina.
"Great Bend has been great to work with and Salina has been great to work with," Woolf said.
So, parents would see very little change. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Woolf said.
The original Lorraine district, sans Claflin, was already receiving these services from Salina.
The agreement would be good news for USD 428 where board members and administrators were worried about the fate of the students. The issue came during the Great Bend board meeting as the board dealt with amending the BCCSE cooperative agreement.
In the unlikely event the Salina group rejects the plan, then one of two things could happen. The Barton County co-op could absorb the Central Plains students, a prospect not popular with the Great Bend-based BCCSE because it would stretch its already limited resources.
Or, worst case scenario, USD 428 Superintendent Tom Vernon said, was for both cooperatives to say no. At that point, the Kansas State Department of Education would have to step in and decide.
In addition to the students, BCCSE also employs two teachers in Claflin. But, Vernon said, they will not be out of a job. They will either stay on with Barton County or be hired by Salina.
The goal, said USD 428 Business Director Dan Brungardt, is pave a seamless transition.
Special education is funded by a patchwork quilt of sources on a per-teacher basis. The state pays for about 60 percent of the salary for a special ed teacher and about 40 percent for a teaching assistant. After the federal government kicks in a portion, the balance is picked up by the co-op member districts.
Even so, the cost of educating special-needs students is high, hence the system of cooperatives. "Co-ops exist so districts can bond together and serve high-need students," Brungardt said.
Special education has been mandated by the feds since Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. At about that time, the co-ops came into existence.
The BCCSE will lose the state and federal money it received for Claflin, but that money was spent in Claflin, Brungardt said. "It’s a wash." The Barton County co-op will get less money, but it will spend less money.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is Medicare, which reimburses co-ops for some services provided to students. It becomes tricky when these payments have to be split between two districts, Brungardt said.
Any changes are still a year away. The Barton County co-op will continue to serve Claflin for this school year.