Our View: School Board should pledge to work with BOCES | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: School Board should pledge to work with BOCES

At issue

Steamboat schools’ withdrawal from BOCES

Our view

The Steamboat Springs School Board should pledge not to withdraw from BOCES for at least a year and support the regional system.

Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services Executive Director Amy Bollinger recently announced that the BOCES board had approved her plan to create two new assistant special education director positions for the 2014-15 school year.

The two assistant directors will be able to divide and conquer BOCES' vast service area with added support from Bollinger, who will expand her role as executive director to include a special education director. One assistant director would serve Routt County schools, and the other would be assigned to serve the districts in Grand and Jackson counties.

The move is one aimed at efficiency, making the task of managing special education programs for six rural school districts across a wide geographic area more manageable and directly addressing one of the major concerns raised by the Steamboat Springs School District when it decided to request a withdrawal from the BOCES system last September.

Steamboat, which provides about half of BOCES' annual funding, has cited efficiency as one of the reasons why the district decided to pursue withdrawal from the regional special education cooperative, claiming it could hire its own special education director and operate its own programs at an annual cost savings of $125,000. The Colorado Board of Education denied Steamboat's request in a strongly worded decision letter. The state concluded that the district's withdrawal from the system would "jeopardize" BOCES' ability to provide the full spectrum of special education services it was obligated to provide to its member school districts.

The denial was unequivocal, and we were encouraged when the Steamboat Springs School Board decided against appealing the state's decision at the end of February. But in discussing that decision, Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said the district was leaving the door open to reapply for withdrawal from BOCES again in the fall.

The instability raised by the continuing threat of Steamboat's possible exit from the system creates an unhealthy environment in which BOCES is forced to operate. Bollinger has been very clear about what Steamboat's withdrawal from BOCES would mean. She said BOCES would be forced to cut its staff in half without the $874,000 in funding Steamboat provides on an annual basis.

As long as the specter of Steamboat's withdrawal looms, the future of BOCES remains uncertain, which could make it difficult for the organization to retain qualified staff members who may be forced to look for employment elsewhere if they think their positions are in jeopardy of being cut. This type of unease has the potential to create turnover and negatively affect BOCES' ability to provide consistent, quality services for our area youths.

Bollinger's plan to restructure the traditional special education director's role and create three new positions is a tangible sign that BOCES has listened to Steamboat's concerns and is taking steps to mitigate some of the problems that come from operating a system spread across six different school districts and three counties.

In response, we would like to see the Steamboat district pledge to formally suspend any plans to withdraw from BOCES for at least a year, and possibly two, to remove the uncertainty and give the regional system a chance to prove that the changes it is making are having an impact on the special education services it delivers to Steamboat and other districts.

It's time Steamboat officially closes the door on plans to withdraw from BOCES and instead recommits to supporting and strengthening an existing system for the benefit of all special education students in the region.