Program to dissolve

GREENFIELD – A tri-county special education program that has served local students for more than 40 years will dissolve next year.

Local school boards have agreed to close down Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services, a Greenfield-based cooperative, at the end of the 2016-17 school year, leaving two county school districts to create their own special education programming.

The co-op has provided staff, training and other support services to students from six area school corporations in Hancock, Shelby and Madison counties since 1973. This year, it served five school districts and about 2,500 students.

The co-op’s future has been in question since Greenfield-Central officials announced plans to withdraw from the partnership in December 2014, citing a need for more in-house control over staff and programming. The school district launched its own special education program this school year.

Each school district served by the co-op contributes financially to its operating costs based on the number of students from their district who are served. When Greenfield, which had 960 special education students, withdrew, the co-op lost its largest district.

Last November, Mt. Vernon School Corp. followed Greenfield-Central’s lead, deciding to withdraw and provide its own special education programming next school year to its 600 special needs students, which officials estimate will save the district about $350,000 annually.

At least week’s Eastern Hancock School Board meeting, the co-op’s executive director, Karen Niemeier, told board members that co-op participants were supposed to give two years’ notice before withdrawing, but the co-op wanted to respect Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon’s desire to pull out of their agreements, so it allowed the districts to withdraw early.

With the co-op preparing to dissolve, school leaders at Eastern and Southern Hancock will now need to decide how the districts will provide special education to students who need it starting in the 2017-18 school year.

They’ll either look for a different partnership or launch their own programs – Southern Hancock already has some classroom space devoted to special education. Last year, Southern Hancock and Mt. Vernon renovated classroom space to accommodate about 30 students with severe or profound special education needs who had been attending school at Greenfield-Central as part of an arrangement through the co-op.

School leaders at Southern Hancock expect their nearly 500 special education students won’t notice any changes when school begins in 2017. District leaders are already planning to grow their essential skills classes and to share resources with area schools, said Marcia Piercy, director of special education for Southern Hancock schools.

“I don’t think we’ll miss a beat,” Piercy said. “I know we won’t jeopardize any services to kids,” she added.

School districts likely won’t be able to hire every specialized teacher that students need, so districts might have to share those with expertise in certain areas, she said.

At Eastern Hancock, which had 198 students who received special education services — including speech and languages services — last year, educators are weighing options for special education programming, said Superintendent Vicki McGuire.

She also plans to work alongside other area superintendents to share resources. Without the co-op, the school district will need to hire its own special education teachers and staff. While the school receives funding for special education services, leaders have some worries about what it will cost the district to provide its own programming, she said.

Though there are currently a lot of unknowns, McGuire said the district will continue providing quality services to students with special needs.

“Rest assured, we will meet the needs of our students,” she said in an email to the Daily Reporter.

Superintendents who will still be involved in the co-op next school year, including Eastern Hancock, Southern Hancock, South Madison and Northwestern Shelby, are expected to meet April 1 to discuss what shared services might be available. They’ll also need to decide how to divvy up equipment and materials currently owned by the co-op.

Daily Reporter staff writer Kristy Deer contributed to this report.

Pull Quote

“I know we won’t jeopardize any services to kids.”

– Marcia Piercy, Southern Hancock schools special education director, on the dissolving of Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services

Pull Quote

“Rest assured, we will meet the needs of our students”

– Vicki McGuire, Eastern Hancock schools superintendent, on the future of the district’s special education program

At a glance

Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services, which provides special education programming, including staff, materials and resources, to five area schools will dissolve after next school year. Here’s a look at services it has provided since 1973: 

  • programming for autism spectrum disorders
  • programming for blind students
  • programming for students with cognitive disabilities
  • programming for deaf or hard of hearing students
  • programming for students with developmental delays
  • programming for students with emotional disabilities
  • programming for students with language or speech impairments
  • programming for students with orthopedic impairments
  • preschool
  • programming for students with learning disabilities
  • programming for students with traumatic brain injuries

Source: Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services

Students served

Hancock Madison Shelby Educational Services provides special education programming to five area schools.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, those schools had the following number of students with special needs last school year.

Mt. Vernon — 518 students

Eastern Hancock — 198 students

Southern Hancock — 482 students

South Madison — 727 students

Northwestern Shelby — 212 students

Source: Indiana Department of Education

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.