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Slow schools' departure from special ed co-op? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Slow schools' departure from special ed co-op?
Parents voice concerns; superintendent to meet with other co-op leaders

by Natalie Stevens


Oswego School District officials may be considering extending the timeline of its withdrawal from the Kendall County Special Education Cooperative (KCSEC).

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt announced the possible change at a school district board meeting Monday evening during an update on special education programming.

In June of this year, the board voted 5 -2 to submit a resolution to withdraw from the Kendall County Co-op following reports from the special education audit that there was a 40 percent achievement gap between the district's special education students and their general education peers.

The Oswego School District also made the decision to consider withdrawal from a governance and financial standpoint, as Wendt explained that there are two separate staffs between the district and the KCSEC and said, "We owe it to people to ask the question: can we be more effective and do it under a framework that costs less?"

The co-op serves the Oswego, Yorkville, Plano, Lisbon, Newark Grade School and Newark High school districts and provides special education services to the students. The cooperative was formed in 1974 and has been serving students in Kendall County for 40 years.

To withdraw from the co-op, the Oswego School District must file a notice 12 months prior to the date of withdrawal, which was July 1, 2015. Oswego had planned to remain a part of the co-op for the upcoming 2014-15 school year and withdraw for the 2015-2016 school year, which is when the district would then operate under its own comprehensive special education plan.

The other five school districts in the KCSEC must vote within 90 days on whether to approve the withdrawal. Should any district vote against it, there is a second option to file the petition with the regional board of school trustees.

However, surrounding school districts expressed concern with the timeline that Oswego was considering for their withdrawal.

"We cannot provide all of the services that we need for our (special education) students-we need the co-op-that's why you have a co-op so that you can provide education for your special needs students," Amy Smith, Superintendent of Newark High School District said at a KCSEC meeting earlier this summer. "That really puts small school districts ... in a very difficult situation."

Superintendent Tim Shimp of Yorkville School District 115 said at the meeting that the July 1 deadline Oswego needed to dissolve the co-op was "very unrealistic."

"I think we certainly have an obligation to our community and our parents and our kids and our programs to give a lot more thought and planning and purpose into any decisions that we are going to make by basically the end of the (next) school year," Shimp said.

Parents were also concerned about the withdrawal.

Helen Kavlock, a special education program parent, said she did not understand how pulling out of the co-op would improve test scores throughout the district, as special education students are already partaking in those tests and programs.

"If you want to improve test scores, you should fix those programs," Kavlock said.

She added that the entire process has been "very rushed" and that when the board asked for parent involvement, parents were only invited to attend a meeting telling them what the district was doing.

"This has caused mass chaos at both the co-op and the school district," Kavlock said. "There are an obscene number of unfilled teaching positions at this time. This turnover means special needs students like my son will be starting the school year at understaffed buildings. How will this improve test scores?"

Superintendent Wendt addressed the issue at the Monday evening board meeting, saying that other school boards in the cooperative had concerns about the timeline and "that's an issue we need to resolve."

"Most people know we can do it in a year," Wendt said. "Those same people may not want the withdrawal process to be the only thing superintendent focuses on."

Board members raised concerns in June about the readiness of the district to implement a fully functioning special education program in one year, but Judy Minor, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said the district would be able to meet the one year deadline.

The comprehensive plan would be submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education for approval next year spring, and would need to be approved at the state level before it could be implemented in Oswego.

If the state does not approve the plan, then the withdrawal request from the co-op will not be approved.

Wendt is meeting with other co-op superintendents later this week to discuss the timeline of the withdrawal process.

"We need to do what's in the best interest for our district, and I do believe it's in our best interest to continue with the withdrawal process," Wendt said. "But it's that timeline that's causing anxiety with other districts. If [changing the timeline] is what's required to get support around the county, I'll let you know."

Board member Greg O'Neil told the community to have confidence in the board.

"At some point someone has to make a decision to make changes. Obviously when special education audit comes back and says they're underperforming peers by 40 percent, something has to change," O'Neil said. "I would hope that people would have confidence that the volunteers they elected to serve in this position would act in their best interest."

Matt Schury contributed to this story

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