School board aims to bring Thompson students home

By Dan Karpiel

The Surveyor

At the most recent meeting of the Thompson School District (TSD) Board of Education, the principle focus of discussion was what to do with special-needs students who are currently receiving their education outside the district, at a significant cost.

Charlie Carter, TSD executive director of Student Support Services, presented to the board her department’s finding regarding costs and benefits of a proposed plan to bring Thompson students home, as the presentation was titled. A vote on the proposal was not made last Wednesday but pushed to the next meeting on Feb. 20, but board members largely seemed receptive to Carter’s  proposal.

A handful of students in TSD have needs which TSD cannot meet and, as dictated by federal law under the Free Appropriate Public Education for Students with Disabilities requirements, the district must meet those needs even if doing so requires transporting and educating the student out of district at additional cost. There are some special-needs students who are educated in the district but others, whose needs the district cannot meet, are bussed elsewhere.

According to Carter’s presentation, in the 2015/16 school year 16 students were educated out of district at a cost of $354,941.03, in 2016/17 the number was 32 students at a cost of $663,403.33, and in 2017/18 it was 30 students for $804,155.91.

According to the district memo, “At approximately 12 percent of the student population, meeting special education needs has consistently been a challenge, particularly as the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues of students have become both more intense and prevalent. The number of students requiring high levels of support increases each year; many are transported and served in out-of-district facilities. The special education costs to educate these students is currently budgeted at $890,000.00 for the 2018/19 school year, excluding transportation costs.”

The proposal was to return secondary students – those in middle and high school – back to the district from the Sierra School in Greeley and others in Denver and Fort Collins, which they currently attend. The plan calls for TSD to partner with Catapult Learning Services, a provider of special-education services. Catapult, a provider of special education programs and services, partners with districts to meet the social, behavioral and emotion needs of students in special-education programs.

The cost of partnering with Catapult will cost TSD a flat, annual rate of $580,000 for 20 special-needs students, 10 from the district’s high schools and 10 more from district middle schools. The rate is all-encompassing, as Catapult provides the educators, social workers, and others required to meet the needs of these students. By partnering with Catapult, the district will not only save money but will also provide a better education to students as they will spend such a large portion of their day being bussed out-of-district and will have increased opportunities for extracurricular activities, Carter argued.

Furthermore, according to Carter’s presentation, the students will benefit from being in their own home community, have easier access to the support of their parents and families, and have access to district resources. Benefits for the district include savings on transportation and facility school tuition, easier transportation to their “home” school, and ease of operation, as Catapult handles the hiring, training and retention of the staff used to service these students’ needs.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Thompson school board will be on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

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