District 861 to save on Special Ed

/ 8 April 2012 / jennifer

Sarah Squires, Winona Post, April 8, 2012 –

The latest figures are lining up in District 861’s favor when it comes to separation from Hiawatha Valley Education District (HVED) for special education services, according to school finance reports presented to the school board Thursday.

Fiscal affairs director Dan Pyan said the district will save $152,748 providing the services on its own, numbers generated as new special education positions are beginning to have people, as well as more specific staffing costs, tentatively identified.

The numbers are far more complex than simple salaries and benefits, and savings estimates have been challenged in the past. Pyan told the board Monday that the newest data showed the district would save with the split. “It was a good financial move and it can be proven we’re gaining $150,000 by leaving HVED,” he said.

Exiting HVED will mean Winona schools will have to provide special education staffing in-house beginning next fall, after a rather contentious divorce with the education district. WAPS has been a member of HVED for more than two decades, part of a cooperative special ed entity that pooled staffing together for more than a dozen regional school districts.

Ten of the 14.6 full-time special education positions are expected to be approved by the board at its next meeting, and Pyan explained that much of the identified savings is due to a reduction in administrative costs from leaving HVED. Those administrative services have been absorbed by existing WAPS administrators.

The financial arrangement with HVED meant that federal dollars for special education supplied to WAPS would go straight into HVED coffers, and then HVED would determine which districts would get what portion of services from the total pot. Some of those federal funds would then be reimbursed to WAPS for other special education costs that the district still paid for using the funds. Now, the approximate $900,000 in federal special education money will head to WAPS accounts and be distributed for the programs.

Federal dollars were recently allowed to be used for special education staff benefits, which had been previously covered through the district’s general fund, which has also helped move the numbers in the district’s favor, said Pyan.

But intangible services, such as staff training sessions and other support, were also offered through HVED, and it is unclear how those potential costs could affect the bottom line.

Making the switch

Superintendent Scott Hannon first aired the idea of separating with HVED in December 2010, following changes with some of the services provided by HVED. A full-time school psychologist for Winona had been cut, and the number of social workers serving Winona County was reduced by one, partly explained by a reduction in county funding for the position.

A few months later, Hannon requested that HVED employee Judi Vold, who had served WAPS as special education director, be employed full-time through the school district. She had been allocated to split her time between Winona and La Crescent, .8 in Winona and the rest outside of WAPS. At the time, Hannon claimed the arrangement was really pulling her out of WAPS work more. HVED officials disputed the claim, and Vold has since taken the full-time position through the Winona district.

The WAPS board attempted to pull out of the union with HVED for the current academic year, a bid that was stymied after a check with state laws outlining the way — and when — the district could end the partnership.

State law also dictates the way WAPS must hire for the special education positions following the separation with HVED, giving some rights to employment with the district for people in current HVED positions working in Winona schools. Many of the people recommended for the positions are currently employed through HVED.