(Posted July 12, 2017)
By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer
Two months ago, Jefferson Local school board members received notice that a service provider’s costs could jump nearly $100,000. In July, they were told why.
Dan Kaffenbarger, superintendent of the Madison-Champaign Educational Service Center (ESC), and Matt Ketcham, treasurer, attended the July 10 school board meeting to explain the increase.
“The preschool is designed to serve special needs,” Kaffenbarger said, in detailing mandates set by the state, such as requiring a certified teacher along with a paraprofessional for up to 16 students.
“One of the things happening with the Jefferson preschool is (the addition of) six autistic students with high intensity needs, with four more coming through intervention.”
The increase in numbers resulted in planning for a pair of additional paraprofessionals, which increased the cost ESC bills to the school district for staffing.
“The two additional aides is the primary reason for the increase,” Kaffenbarger said, adding that if the need for the positions disappears with future changes in the student population, the positions will be eliminated.
“We staff according to need,” Kaffenbarger said.
Ketcham told board members, when he works on service budgeting, he estimates high and then makes adjustments mid-year so school districts are not surprised with a higher than expected bill at the end of the year.
Ketcham also said that while the state picks up a major portion of the funding for students identified with disabilities, it does not fully cover all of the costs.
“It’s a weighted formula,” he explained, “and (districts) never get the full cost of educating a special education student. For special needs, the cost per student is more expensive for preschool than special needs in higher grades.”
Sue Barte, Norwood Elementary principal, said more high needs children are entering the system in the upcoming school year. She also reported that Norwood benefitted by adding a bridge class between preschool and kindergarten for students not quite ready for kindergarten, but beyond the curriculum of preschool.
The preschool was formerly unit-funded as a package. Now, funding is a set amount per student, regardless of disabilities, and costs escalated with the change to a per-pupil basis.
“In many ways, it’s like an unfunded mandate,” Superintendent William Mullett previously commented. “We don’t get any funding from the state for preschool, so those costs fall to the school district. These kids are identified and you have to provide services.”
The school district currently pays ESC $717,000 annually for all services in all buildings, including special education, preschool, therapy and nursing. Approximately $279,000 was allocated for preschool services for as many as 64 students, ages 3 to 6, in four half-day classes.
The preschool agreement, in place for the last 15 years, covers the cost of teachers, aides, equipment and ancillary services, such as physical and speech therapy.