SIDNEY — The Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities (SCBDD) plans to reduce the Shelby Hills staff by 20 people following Sidney City Schools’ decision to move its preschool education of Sidney students away from Shelby Hills and back to the city district.
The staff reduction decision came after an executive session during the SCBDD’s regular meeting, Monday, Jan. 28.
The board also crafted a transition agreement for the staff involved in the reduction and resolved to provide special education preschool services for 2019-2020 to Anna, Botkins, Houston, Russia, Fort Loramie, Fairlawn and Jackson Center local schools.
Superintendents from several of those districts attended the meeting to voice their concerns that those services could cost the remaining districts significantly more than they have in the past.
Scott Howell, superintendent of the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center, said, “Sidney City Schools’ pulling out means significant change. There’s an overall curiosity (among county school superintendents) about how funding is going to look. Funding is a super big deal for us.”
Russia Superintendent Steve Rose, Fairlawn Superintendent Jeff Hobbs, Hardin-Houston Superintendent Larry Claypool, and Botkins Superintendent Jeff McPheron also were in attendance.
Claypool noted that last year, the schools had picked up the cost of busing students to Shelby Hills. That, SCBDD Superintendent Leigh Anne Wenning told the Sidney Daily News after the meeting, was because the state had changed the laws about who could and could not be funded for transportation.
School administrators worry that having to pay more for the education of preschool children with disabilities on top of paying for their transportation will overtax their budgets.
According to Wenning, as Shelby Hillss grew, the expenses of running it outpaced the revenue to cover those expenses. Because by law it is the school districts’ responsibility to provide free, public education to students, including preschoolers with disabilities, “we felt that it was time to ask the school districts for additional support,” she said.
The SCBDD passed a resolution in March 2018 that 20 percent of funds collected in a county-wide tax levy supporting SCBDD would be allocated to Shelby Hills. That, however, still left a deficit of about $955,000. SCBDD created a phase-in plan, whereby the school districts would assume the responsibility for covering that deficit on a sliding scale based on the number of students from each district over the course of four years. The plan was presented to the schools last spring, and Sidney City Schools subsequently pulled out of contracting with SCBDD.
That action will result in the staff reduction that was decided Monday. Because the staff reduction will reduce the expenses of the SCBDD, there is a concern among county school administrators that the SCBDD will reduce the percentage of levy funds allocated to Shelby Hills and that the districts will be asked to make up whatever deficit may remain in the operating expenses of the preschool.
They asked that the board continue to allocate 20 percent of the levy funds to Shelby Hills.
SCBDD member Karen Ballas questioned whether Sidney voters would find it equitable to continue to be taxed to support a school that wasn’t educating their children.
“No less equitable than our supporting Sidney students,” McPheron answered. After the meeting, he explained that the entire community of Botkins, as county residents, are taxed to support SCBDD.
“The tax we put in more than covers our kids (who attend Shelby Hills),” he said. The group presented an additional answer to Ballas’s question after they had left the meeting briefly and then returned.
“We had a little confab in the hallway,” Howell said. “As a group of administrators who are used to levying things, I think we levy money for programs, not individuals. If (someone) pulls out of the program, they forfeit any funding.”
“Our county has passed levies with the understanding that it was going to cover MRDD (programs) and preschool,” Rose told the newspaper after the meeting. He suggested to the board that if schools were going to have to foot more of the bill, perhaps SCBDD should lower its levy so that schools could raise theirs.
Wenning told the Sidney Daily News that the four-year plan devised last spring is now off the table.
“Now we’re working toward doing a staff reduction. The deficit would be less, but not enough to make it free for the county schools. We’re still not sure what the deficit will be. The more assessments we do to know how many students we have, we’ll know how many staff we must have,” she said.
The board could not give the superintendents a timeline for making a decision about what it will cost individual districts. More than one superintendent indicated that not contracting with SCBDD was an option in his district and that if that were to happen, planning should have started months ago.
“You’re doing what’s right by you; we’re doing what’s right by us,” said SCBDD President Nate Counts. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like. We’re going to find a way to make it work for anyone who wants to make it work.” He asked if there were a commitment to SCBDD going forward.
Claypool said the Hardin-Houston district appreciates what SCBDD has done at Shelby Hills. He suggested that the county districts should be given some consideration for keeping their students at Shelby Hills.
Board members and superintendents stressed that they want to do what’s best for the children involved and several called the effort a partnership.
“We want to be partners and do what’s right for the kids,” Rose said.
“It’s a great partnership. Our kids, all kids benefit from it,” McPheron told the newspaper.
In an email to the Daily News late Monday, Wenning added, “We are committed to continuing our partnership with all school districts in Shelby County in order to ensure that children with disabilities are prepared for life to the best of their abilities.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.