District revamps special education program

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon School Corp. recently received approval to withdraw from a multicounty special education cooperative, and administrators are now looking to develop a curriculum and hire a director in time to transition the district into its own program for the 2016-17 school year.

By coordinating its own special education curriculum rather than continuing its partnership with Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services, the district will be able to have more oversight in staffing decisions and programs, rather than seeking approval from the cooperative’s board, said Shane Robbins, Mt. Vernon superintendent. The cooperative, which is based in Greenfield, provides staff, training and other support services for about 2,500 special education students from five area school corporations.

About 600 Mt. Vernon students currently receive services through the agreement, which will end next summer now that the district has ended its two-year contract with the co-op.

Robbins said he and other administrators are looking to hire a director to oversee the new curriculum, which includes plans to create a transition into adulthood program for students 18 to 22. He expects to spend between $350,000 and $500,000 less annually than the $1.65 million the district paid through its contract with the co-op each year.

Nurses, teachers, physical therapists and occupational therapists are among the 27 full-time and part-time employees who currently work at Mt. Vernon schools but whose employment contracts are through the co-op.

Robbins said he intends to transfer all of those employees over to Mt. Vernon contracts, but he was unsure what those specific costs would be.

“Our kids and our families need that consistency,” Robbins said. “We want them to know they’ll be seeing the same faces next year, and we want to protect our staff.”

Job openings for a director of special education and special education instructional assistant are now posted to the school’s website, and administrators will be tapped to help interview and select a new director, Robbins said.

Steve Meyer, who serves as special education director for the corporation, has accepted a position as assistant director. Meyer said he regularly sits in on co-op special education classes and is taking stock to determine what programs Mt. Vernon will want to replicate while also considering what could be added.

“Going forward, we’ll be asking, ‘Is all of this working for us?’” Meyer said. “This gives us the opportunity to go back and see what we can do differently to make sure we’re continuing to expand the opportunities we offer.”

The district stands to save a lot of money from the transition, Robbins said.

Through the co-op’s agreement with the five partnering school districts, each had to pay for all of its services, even if its students didn’t require them, Robbins said. By designing its own program, the district will be able to trim costs.

Robbins said equipment purchases will likely total only a few thousand dollars. Most of the purchases needed to make the transition were made in 2014, when Greenfield-Central withdrew from the co-op, spurring reorganization among the remaining districts, Robbins said.

Members of the co-op’s board had to consider whether Mt. Vernon would be able to transition smoothly into a program that will provide sufficient services to its students before approving the district’s request, said Karen Niemeier, executive director of the co-op.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.