ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
Board of education members from five school districts joined the Marion County Special Education Cooperative Board of Directors Monday evening in Florence to discuss its programs and facilities.
“We thought it would be best to have the five boards meet to discuss how best to serve the needs of (special ed) students,” said MCSEC chair Richard Drake of Goessel.
Two years ago, Drake said, the MCSEC board started reviewing the 10-year cooperative, a process that has raised questions about programs and facilities, including needed upgrades for the current site in Florence as well as discussion about possibly moving the program to another location.
“One question leads you to another dynamic,” Drake said, adding that the most important questions center on students.
“Are these kids getting what they need to be productive, contributing members of society?” he said. “Are we providing the services needed?”
MCSEC director Chris Cezar had distributed a report to the school boards prior to the meeting in which he “attempted to answer frequently asked questions” about students, programs and facilities.
At Monday’s meeting, he clarified several points from that report.
“We want to share as much about processing as possible in hope of deciding what is best for the kids,” said Cezar, who validated his “tight-knit staff” that works to adjust to particular students’ needs.
He said the cooperative, which began about 10 years ago, was started to better serve students with special learning and behavior needs from the county’s five school districts.
“It’s hard to be flexible with those students as you can be here (at OASIS),” said Superintendent Gordon Mohn of USD 410 in response to a question whether the children were adequately served in a regular high school setting prior to establishing OASIS.
MCSEC board member Clark Davis of Centre posed several questions to elicit input from those in attendance.
“Are we offering the same educational experiences (at OASIS as in the local district)?” he asked.
Among those who responded were several MCSEC staff who said OASIS provides a different experience that is designed to help children learn and change their behavior.
Nonetheless, limitations affect the learning process, said Dwayne Abrahams, one of five certified teachers at MCSEC.
Those in attendance seemed to reach consensus about the necessity of continuing the cooperative’s programs.
USD 410 president Rod Koons urged the county’s school districts to work at collaboration.
“We have an opportunity to show our county that organizations can work toward a common goal-educating our kids,” Koons said.
Those decisions will have a financial impact on each district, said Keith Collett of USD 408.
MCSEC board member Lyle Leppke of Marion agreed.
“If building new facilities is a priority, it will cost some place else,” Leppke said.
Doe Ann Hague, the Peabody-Burns representative on the MCSEC board, said the special-ed board “needs freedom to explore options.”
Part of the board’s exploration included consulting an architect to assess the renovations needed for the buildings at Florence, which are owned by USD 408.
“We’re looking and researching-that doesn’t mean we’ve made a commitment (to stay here or build),” Hague said.
“We need to make decisions about what’s best for the kids-it’s not about the facilities, it’s about the students.”
In response to several financial issues, the MCSEC board will put together a detailed cost analysis to share with the districts about upgrading current facilities as well as building a new facility.
In addition to Drake, Davis, Leppke and Hague, Debbie Geis of USD 410 in Hillsboro also serves on the MCSEC board.