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Special ed co-op stay extended : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Special ed co-op stay extended
Board votes 6-1 to keep district in KCSEC until 2016

by Natalie Stevens


Oswego School District officials have extended their timetable and now plan to withdraw the district from the Kendall County Special Education Cooperative (KCSEC) in the 2016-17 school year.

The decision to extend the deadline to two years came as a result of a 6-1 vote by school board members during a meeting Monday night. Board member Alison Swanson cast the dissenting vote.

In June of this year, the board voted 5 -2 to submit a resolution to withdraw from the co-op for next year following reports from the special education audit that there was a 40 percent achievement gap between Oswego special education students and their general education peers.

The co-op serves the school districts of Oswego, Yorkville, Plano, Lisbon, Newark Grade School and Newark High School 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.

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt brought the extended timeline to the board earlier in August, citing conversations with the other cooperative district's superintendents as well as parents in the Oswego School District.

"They know we could aggressively do it in one year, they'd prefer not to aggressively do it in one year," Wendt said.

The district originally planned to withdraw from the co-op for the 2015-2016 school year, which is when the district would then operate under its own comprehensive special education plan. In order for Oswego to withdraw from the KCSEC, all five other districts would have to vote in favor of the withdrawal, and many expressed concerns about the one year deadline for their own students.

"Several boards have indicated they don't want this to be the one issue ... to suck up all their time," Wendt said. "We're backing off. We are going to continue to move forward, but give districts, our neighbors and our friends, time."

Wendt said he sensed some "anxiety" from the other districts and said the biggest impact to them would be the financial concerns.

"We own 67 percent of the stock - of the kids and services, finance, funding, the building, etc.," Wendt said. "For them it's going to take a little longer to grasp 67 percent of the organization is out."

The extended two-year timeline would also give the cooperative time to reach out to other local districts to see if they would be interested in joining or collaborating.

"If we were to reach out to smaller districts to take our place, that might take more than the six to eight months this school year," Wendt said. "It would provide districts a little wider time window to join the co-op."

"This isn't' about getting rid of the co-op," Wendt added. "This is about us as one of largest systems in the state to serve kids. If other districts want to join the co-op and create a different system, we would be right there to support them."

Board member Matt Bauman said he was "thrilled" with the decision for a two-year timetable, but board member Greg O'Neil expressed concerns about the additional year.

O'Neil commented on the results of the audit that showed special needs students underperforming and said, "Subjecting them to two more years doesn't look like their educational needs are being put at the forefront. They are significantly underperforming. My concern is we've talked about all the adults and how they feel, but this system is set up for the children and it's not working for them."

Wendt said the district's decision to withdraw in two years should not "prevent us from providing professional development," and said one of the key factors in the audit was the development for faculty. He expressed interest in being able to hire the co-op teachers if laws and negotiations did not prevent it, but O'Neil wanted to know why the district would want to hire teachers that were not helping students to "perform at standard."

"It's been less about actual people in classrooms, and more about lack of resources, staff development, maybe technology. There are five or six areas we've been behind in," Wendt said. "It's difficult to hold people accountable if we haven't provided them with the resources."

Board president Bill Walsh was in support of the extended timeline, commenting on all the districts involved.

"This allows us to not just think about our students, but all students in the co-op and allow other districts to position themselves so they're prepared for their students," Walsh said.

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