Columbia moves forward on Perandoe exit

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Perandoe Special Education District Director Carol Root recently presented a plaque to retiring Waterloo superintendent Jim Helton for his years of service working with the cooperative. (North County News photo)

Over the course of the next year, change is likely for the Perandoe Special Education District.

The cooperative, comprised of several school districts in Monroe and Randolph counties including Columbia, Prairie du Rocher, Valmeyer and Waterloo, helps provide services most districts can’t on their own.

The cooperative started in the late 1960s and continues to provide administrative oversight and support to students and staff.

Perandoe director Carol Root said the nine districts pool some of their local, state and federal funds so Perandoe can provide necessary services to the approximately 1,350 students in the two counties…>>>

She praised the program’s staff on their ability to look at everything from a “strength-based” approach, looking at what the child can do and how Perandoe can accommodate their needs.

Though Monroe County schools have utilized the cooperative for many years, the Columbia school district has made the decision to withdraw from the cooperative and manage their special education services as a district instead.

The Columbia School Board filed a resolution on May 15 stating the reasons and proposed benefits for the withdrawal. The listed reasons in the resolution include local control, cost savings, wanting to employ their own social workers and have a wider selection of nearby programs.

“Perandoe does a great job,” Segobiano said. “Columbia’s withdrawal doesn’t have anything to do with their services. It’s a strong program.”

She cites the strongest benefit of the withdrawal as being able to employ and supervise their own special education staff to serve the approximately 70 students who currently use Perandoe services.

Perandoe operates an alternative education program geared for students with special needs that cannot be accommodated within the local school district. This program is operated out of Tilden, which is nearly an hour away from Columbia. Columbia has not used it for the past three years.

Since Columbia is located so closely to St. Louis, the resolution states that the district has a broader selection of out-of-district placements that would be closer in proximity.

The school board has also estimated that withdrawing from Perandoe will save the district money. The resolution states that the special education population has remained stable, and while the district has experienced a continual increase in annual assessments, the number of students has not aligned compared to many of the other member districts.

“For 2013-14, Columbia contributed $488,000 toward supporting Perandoe, which required $150,000 additional dollars outside the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act subgrant from the Education Fund,” the resolution states. “It is anticipated that cost for four full-time employees plus related services would result in significant savings.”

There is a lengthy process behind the withdrawal, and Columbia has sent the resolution to the Perandoe management council, which is made up of superintendents of the member districts, along with board members who sit on a governing board that meets annually.

“Right now, the resolution is in everyone’s hands,” Segobiano said.

She presented the official petition to Root and Perandoe management on July 9, along with exhibits that will go more in-depth on the impact.

“We want our students to have our own go-to person just in our district,” she said. “But we’re 22 percent of the co-op, so 22 percent of the services they provide will probably have to be reduced.”

Since it’s such a large decision and influences several districts, the process for withdrawing will take a year.

“According to the bylaws and school code, the management council either collectively or individually sends a response to the district,” Segobiano said. “We won’t know what that is – whether they approve or don’t recommend to approve.”

Afterwards, each school board will have to put the decision on their agenda.

“If 100 percent of the members approve it, that gives us the green light to go present our comprehensive plan to the state of Illinois,” she said. “No matter what, we have to assure our parents and our community that we can do this and we’ve thought of everything.”

 If one of the member boards votes against, the Columbia must go before the Regional Board of School Trustees, which is a seven-member board of elected officials under the Regional Office of Education. They must present the petition again, answer questions and get a “yes” or “no.”

“It’s going to be hard for nine districts to say yes,” Segobiano said. “That’s why we have this planning year.”

Kelton Davis, regional superintendent of schools and ex-officio secretary for the Regional Board of School Trustees, said the board has nine months to make a decision after the legal petition to have the hearing is received.

“It’s going to take the districts a while to figure out what the impact will be,” Davis said. “Special education costs are one of the most significant non-reimbursed expenses that our districts have. Not a district in this region will tell you they won’t do everything they possibly can for every single kid they have – regular, special, gifted or otherwise.”

Davis said he doesn’t anticipate the deliberation process taking the full nine months.

“Two-thirds of the Regional Board of School Trustees have to approve the petition for it to go through,” he said. “If two-thirds approve, they will be able to do (the 2015-16 school year).”

The second segment of the resolution lists the projected education and financial impact this withdrawal will have on the other member districts.

The resolution states that the withdrawal will have minimal impact on services provided to the other districts.

Columbia would retain its full IDEA flow through monies that would not be streamed to support Perandoe.

“With the year-end surplus that has been accumulated throughout the years along with the management council to develop and approve the operating budget, the financial impact should be able to be managed in a manner that would not result in increased assessments to member districts,” the resolution states.

Segobiano said the district will be seeking parent input to see what they had previously used Perandoe for.

“If they utilize Perandoe just to answer questions, we’re going to have a person on staff to answer those questions,” she said. “We will make sure any and all services will be covered.”

She anticipates having to hire social workers, a school psychologist and a director of special education, along with other contractual services for things like occupational therapy.

“I want to be able to answer any questions that come up,” she said.

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