13 Jul Local Special Ed Co-ops Splinter to Cope With Budget Woes (IN)

July 13, 2010

By: Carmen McCollum
Source: The Times of Northwest Indiana

As special education cooperatives in Lake and Porter counties deal with statewide budget cuts and other constraints, Crown Point Community School Corp. is stepping out to run its own program.

Effective this month, Crown Point joins Gary, Hammond and East Chicago in operating its own special education department.

Students already were housed in Crown Point school buildings, but now the school district also will administer its own program, employing special education teachers, therapists and related staff.

Until the separation agreement, the district had a contract to pay the co-op for special education services for about 800 students, and teachers were employed through the co-op.

Crown Point Superintendent Teresa Eineman said the district used about $1.5 million in stimulus money to put its program together. She also has said the district will save about $400,000 a year by operating its own program.

Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative Director Pat Pierce said they had 18 months notice, making it a smooth transition.

"We were able to work out the issues," she said. "We shipped all of our student records to them. They kept all of their equipment, and we don’t have to worry about doing the inventory."

As a result of the changes, NISEC lost an administrator and a secretary.

Crown Point schools offere d 35 teachers, who were formerly employed through the co-op, positions within the school district. Thirty-three teachers joined Crown Point schools, one retired and another stayed with NISEC. The new Department of Exceptional Learners for Crown Point is Susan Niendorf.

NISEC will continue serving nine districts, including Griffith, Hanover, Highland, Hobart, Lake Ridge, Lake Station, Merrillville, River Forest and Tri-Creek.

NISEC offers classes at Eagle Park Community School for youngsters with challenges as well as an extended period for the summer. NISEC also operates two classes for intensive intervention at Calumet High School, composed of 20 to 24 students from Lake Ridge, Highland and Griffith.

Slashes in the state budget ordered by Gov. Mitch Daniels created other changes at NISEC.

Pierce said she has had to cut one school psychologist, one educational diagnostician, one teacher for the emotionally disturbed and a half-time special education teacher. Since March, NISEC had to cut all nine speech assistants. However, the existing co-op will be able to cover those positions because it hired four full-time speech pathologists.

"Despite the budget cuts, we’ve been able to do some shifting to meet the needs of our students," she said. "Unfortunately, we’re hearing there will be more cuts next year, another 5 percent. Ninety-five percent of our budget is staff. When you cut staff, you cut programs to kids."

Similarly, the Porter County Special Education Services in Valparaiso, laid off eight teachers, though school officials have said all those teachers will be recalled.

The department serves about 4,100 special education students in seven school districts in Porter County. The Porter County Special Education Services employs about 220 teachers and another 20 or so related staff, including psychologists, therapists and paraprofessionals.

Danielle Zecevich, president of the Special Education Teachers Association in Porter County, said seven retirements will make the recalls possible.

"We also are not taking any raises for the next two years," Zecevich said. "Our health insurance is going up 10 percent; that’s the highest we’ve ever incurred."

At the West Lake Special Education Cooperative in Lake County, which serves students in the School Town of Munster and Lake Central School Corp., new director Joan Machuca said it cut one teacher and 12 and a half instructional assistants for the fall.

Machuca expects continued cuts to the program will mean "evaluating staffing needs throughout the school year."

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