Clark-Pleasant schools, Special Services parting ways

A local school district is ending its partnership with the organization that provides services for special education students, removing about 20 percent of the program’s total students and funding.

Special Services, Johnson County will need to evaluate its funding and staffing needs after Clark-Pleasant schools leaves the partnership next school year, executive director Angie Balsley said. Right now, the organization does not plan to cut any programs; and what students receive, such as physical and occupational therapy, and psychological or other services, should not be affected, she said.

Next year, officials will need to analyze the budget and the impact of no longer having the funding and students from Clark-Pleasant schools, Balsley said.

“We’re all figuring out our staffing needs,” she said. “That’s what any business does, what any school district does. But those decisions haven’t been made yet.”

This fall, Clark-Pleasant’s school board voted to end its partnership with Special Services, Johnson County, and the Special Services board voted to accept the decision this week. The partnership will end June 30, and all therapists and specialists who work with Clark-Pleasant students will continue that work through the current school year.

Right now, all six of Johnson County’s public school districts work with Special Services, along with Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools in Hope and Southwestern schools in Shelby County. The school districts pay to fund the program, and the organization provides therapists, psychologists and other specialists who work with about 4,000 special needs students from those districts, Balsley said.

Clark-Pleasant was the second-largest member of special services, after Center Grove. About a fifth of the 4,000 students served come from Clark-Pleasant schools, and the school district also contributes about 20 percent of the organization’s total budget.

Clark-Pleasant officials began considering leaving Special Services this year. School officials wanted to know if they could save money and improve services by hiring their own therapists and specialists for the district’s roughly 830 special education students.

For example, if therapists were employed by the school district, the hope would be that teachers and principals could receive more timely and informative feedback from a special education student’s therapist, Clark-Pleasant Superintendent Patrick Spray said.

“I feel that gives us a little more say-so in the programing, a little more local control,” Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant pays nearly

$2 million annually to be a part of Special Services, and about $700,000 of that comes from the school district’s state-provided general fund, which also pays for teachers’ salaries and insurance benefits. Clark-Pleasant might be able to save money by hiring its own therapists and specialists because it won’t be paying for costs such as transportation and office staff for both the school district and Special Services, Spray said.

After this school year, Clark-Pleasant will hire about 20 therapists, psychologists and other specialists who will work with students, Spray said. The cost of the new hires has yet to be determined.

Clark-Pleasant’s decision also caused Center Grove schools to briefly consider leaving Special Services.

At Center Grove’s November board meeting, Superintendent Richard Arkanoff told board members that the school district, which had considered leaving Special Services a year-and-a-half ago, needed to again consider whether to end the partnership. Officials were concerned that if Clark-Pleasant left, that could mean a cost increase for the remaining school districts.

On Wednesday, Arkanoff said in an email that an initial review showed that leaving Special Services would be cost-neutral for Center Grove.

The other seven school districts that are a part of Special Services have all pledged to remain with the organization, Balsley said.

And while Special Services will have less money when Clark-Pleasant leaves, the program will also have fewer students to serve, she said.

Officials don’t yet know what losing Clark-Pleasant as a member will mean for the employees of Special Services. But no students are expected to lose the support they need to be able to successfully complete school, Balsley said.

“Within our reorganization, students and parents shouldn’t see a difference in the services students are receiving,” she said. “I’m not looking to cut any programs.”

By the numbers

Here are some of the numbers behind local school districts’ partnership with Special Services, Johnson County:

Number of school districts currently partnered: 8

Number of special education students served: About 4,000

School district that’s leaving: Clark-Pleasant schools

Number of Clark-Pleasant special education students: About 830

Percentage of total students: 20 percent