The Colorado Department of Education approved Durango School District 9-R’s request to separate from the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services on Monday.
The separation allows Durango to form its own administrative unit for special education services effective July 1, 2017. San Juan BOCES offers a wide range of support to the nine-member district in Southwest Colorado, including occupational, physical and speech therapy, social workers and psychologists, early childhood and gifted and talented programs and professional development.
Marcy Lawrence, the director of exceptional student services for the district, has the certification required to direct the program, 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said.
The shift affects about 14 full-time positions, but several of those are specialists who work part-time in Durango and part-time in other districts, BOCES Executive Director Adrea Bogle said. The district is encouraging affected BOCES employees to apply to 9-R.
“We want this to be the least disruptive to our students and families as possible,” Snowberger said. “Benefits-wise, I think we are a little richer, and we don’t want anyone to see a loss in pay. Potentially there could be a gain, because we’re going to be sure we’re competitive.”
The other eight districts in BOCES should not be affected service-wise, Bogle said.
“I’m pretty confident we will not only maintain our services to the other districts,” she said, “we’ll be able to improve them to some degree.”
The state Department of Education made some recommendations along with its approval of 9-R’s request, encouraging BOCES and 9-R to establish a long-term partnership. The district had asked the BOCES board to consider creating an associate-member category in its by-laws for that purpose, but the board has not expressed interest in accommodating 9-R. Coordinating shared resources such as part-time professionals will be one of the challenges in the separation.
Durango parents whose children receive BOCES services have been active on the BOCES Special Education Advisory Council.
“We’ll be creating a Durango advisory council to get direct feedback from parents,” Snowberger said. “Parents need to have a voice, and I know there are things they like at BOCES and things they don’t. We need to take a look at those.”
The separation will save the district about $382,000 annually, although most of the that will be used to continue to provide services to the 543 students in 9-R who have individualized educational programs and require special services. The district had budgeted for four additional special-education teachers and four additional paraprofessionals this school year, but it has already had to hire nine additional paraprofessionals since school began in August, Snowberger said.
The other major impact on 9-R will be handling the paperwork associated with the special-education students, much of the paperwork has been the responsibility of the board of cooperative services. The district’s Student Support Services Department has two administrative assistants, who should be able to handle the additional filing, Snowberger said.
The district has seen an increase in its special-education population in recent years, he said.
“There’s a large increase in our preschool population, in part because we’re getting better at diagnosing, but also because there are more cases of autism and other disabilities,” he said. “If a preschooler needs help with speech or language, and we address it with intense intervention early, we don’t need to continue as they progress through school.”
For every $1 spent on early childhood intervention, the district saves $7 in support in higher grades, he said.
The CDE granted BOCES the right to appeal the decision, which its board will consider at its regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 14, BOCES Executive Director Adrea Bogle said in an email she sent to board members Monday afternoon. The grounds for appeal would primarily be process-based, ensuring the CDE followed its own processes and considered all important information.
“In this separation, it’s not our intent to stop being a neighbor and friend to other districts in Southwest Colorado,” Snowberger said. “For example, we just accepted a high-needs student from Silverton, because we’re better placed to offer the resources the student needs.”