School Discusses Special Ed Finances

The Valley City Public Schools school board discussed how special education services are paid and how the costs could be shared more equitably among a group of schools that share special education services at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Currently, special education services, including services for blind and hearing impaired, are provided by the Sheyenne Valley Special Education Unit. VCPS partners with five other school districts; Oakes, Maple Valley, North Central/Wimbledon/Spiritwood, Hope and Page, to provide special education services.

Income for special education comes from government payments, interest on investments, tuition from other schools (for open-enrolled students), grants and donations. The remainder, or excess costs, is paid by individual school districts.

The Sheyenne Valley Special Education Unit recruits and pays for services including teachers and paraprofessionals (which comprise most of the special education budget) and money earmarked for special education, from outside sources, go directly to the company. Excess costs for those services are then divided among the partner schools using a formula based on each district’s tax base.

The formula does not take into consideration how much of the services are used by each school district.

For example, for the 2011-2012 school year, Valley City’s tax valuation was $27,655,858, or 31.32 percent of the estimated excess costs of $1,160,250 for all six schools, making VCPS’s share $363,405.

The Page school district, however had a tax valuation of $4,975279 or 5.1 percent of the total cost for partner schools, making Page’s total costs $65,140.

That same year, the actual excess cost for Valley City Public Schools was $433,697 while Page’s excess actual excess cost was $56,845 meaning Page paid a higher percentage for its services.

According to Sheyenne Valley Special Education Unit director Nick Klemisch, with the proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year, the gap will widen significantly more.

Partner schools are represented by a board consisting of one member from each school, with Valley City providing two representatives because it is so much larger than the other districts. Superintendent Dean Koppelman and school board chairman Joyce Braunagel represent the Valley City Public Schools. It was this board that brought up the disparity in the payment formula.

According to Koppelman, the formula used to determine costs of special education for each school district should be re-evaluated. The board has two options: either consider using Sheyenne Valley Special Education Unit as the provider of some special education services, primarily specialized services such as speech, physical and occupational services and recruit and pay for teachers directly, or change to a more equitable formula, perhaps a formula based on population in each district, according to Koppelman. But that formula would mean a much higher share of costs, 48 percent as opposed to 31.32 percent now.

Hiring their own teachers could be difficult, said Klemisch. A shortage of special education teachers would make it hard for each school to find qualified staff, now the schools share some teachers. In addition, taking that route wouldn’t cost Valley City much less than paying its higher share.

If the board elects to go with a population-based formula, Klemisch assured that his company would do it’s best to keep costs as low as possible.

The special education board hopes to make a decision by January.