A local special education organization is considering layoffs and cutting transportation services.

About 4,000 people ages 3 to 22 with special needs receive services from therapists, speech pathologists or teachers through Special Services, Johnson County and Surrounding Schools. The organization pools resources for special needs students for all six school districts in Johnson County, as well as four private schools, home-schooled children and two school districts outside Johnson County.

Instead of each school district finding its own teachers and therapists for students with special needs, the schools can work with Special Services to get the professionals they need. Most students attend their home school. When they need occupational therapy or speech pathology, specialized professionals come to them for individualized therapy or lessons at their home school.

Now, the organization is looking for ways to bring in additional funding since less money is coming in from private schools, and Clark-Pleasant schools, one of the county’s largest school districts, announced it was leaving the organization after this school year.

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Each school district gives money to Special Services to operate. When Clark-Pleasant leaves the program, it will take with it about $1.7 million, or 20 percent of the special education group’s total funding.

Private schools also give a certain amount of money to the organization based on their special needs enrollment. In two of the four private schools they work with, enrollment of special needs students has been lower than usual, so less money is coming in, Special Services executive director Angie Balsley said.

As a result, the special education organization is looking to reduce costs and bring in more money to avoid needing to cut programs.

Special Services, with 145 employees, is considering laying off 3 to 8 employees, or up to 5.5 percent of the workforce.

Three transportation positions at Special Services will be cut over the summer, and officials are considering cutting another five, Balsley said. Three certified teachers or therapists and two noncertified staff members, such as aides or secretaries, could work fewer days per year, Balsley said.

In addition, the organization plans to eliminate transportation services, she said. Special Services currently buses 14 students to three schools in Indianapolis — the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Indiana School for the Deaf and St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf. Eight of those students live in the Clark-Pleasant school district.

After this school year, Clark-Pleasant will bus its own students, and Special Services will ask another school district to take over its transportation needs and then sell its buses. That means two bus drivers and a bus aide will be laid off after this school year. The organization has not determined which school district will cover the transportation routes that Special Services currently provides, Balsley said.

By transferring transportation services to another school district, Special Services could save more than $91,000 per year from salaries, tires and fuel costs.

Special Services plans to sell three buses and an older school bus during the summer but will purchase a 15-passenger van, which can be used for preschool students or as needed, Balsley said.

Balsley also hopes to generate more money for the organization by leasing out five office spaces in its building on Earlywood Drive. Balsley will look for businesses or professionals related to education that could move into the building, she said, but no price has been set for the lease cost.

Last year, Indiana American Water Co. approached Special Services, wanting to buy a strip of its land for about $40,000, Balsley said. With $13,000 of the land sale money, Special Services will do upgrades to its building, including renovating the existing office space. The rest of the money will go toward a new entryway with a second door, which will make the location safer and force guests to be buzzed into the building.

Until two years ago, Special Services hired all special education teachers in the county for school districts. But now, the schools have been hiring the positions directly without going through Special Services, Balsley said. And last year, six positions were cut due to a reduction of special needs students in classrooms throughout the county.

Clark-Pleasant announced in December that it would end the contract with Special Services. Clark-Pleasant wanted to provide special education services internally, Balsley said.

With Clark-Pleasant pulling out of the organization, the school district will need to hire its own specialized staff for students with special needs. The school district is hiring professionals who typically already worked with Clark-Pleasant students but were hired through Special Services, director of curriculum Cameron Rains said.

“As we’ve continued to grow, we’re now to a size that we can provide equitable services on our own,” Rains said.

Center Grove also considered leaving the cooperative but decided against it. Clark-Pleasant and Center Grove have the most special needs students in the organization, with 832 and 1,005 students, respectively, receiving help from Special Services professionals.

The cooperative structure is not unique to Johnson County, Balsley said, but some school districts are choosing to provide their own services instead of paying money to Special Services.

At a glance

Special Services, Johnson County and Surrounding Schools is considering laying off eight positions over the next year, including:

  • 3 certified staff members, meaning teachers or therapists with a license to teach or work with children
  • 2 noncertified staff, including secretaries, janitorial staff or an employee that does not have a license to work with children
  • 2 bus drivers
  • 1 bus aide

At a glance

Here’s a look at how many special education students attend each school district:

Center Grove Community School Corp.

1,005 special education students, 13 percent of total enrollment

Clark-Pleasant Community School Corp.

832 special education students, 13.3 percent

Edinburgh Community School Corp.

181 students, 19.2 percent

Franklin Community School Corp.

692 students, 13.7 percent

Greenwood Community School Corp.

539 students, 14.3 percent

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson United School Corp.

264 students, 14.4 percent