School superintendents from Sabine, White Oak and Spring Hill fired back Wednesday against allegations that not all school districts in the Gregg County special education cooperative receive equitable services.
Gladewater ISD board members voted Monday to leave the co-op because the district felt it was not being treated equitably, said Superintendent J.P. Richardson. Gladewater trustees voted to join an Upshur County co-op, expected to save taxpayers $225,000 to $350,000 per year, Richardson said.
“Gladewater has to take care of Gladewater. What is fact or perception in Gladewater ISD is for Gladewater to figure out,” said White Oak Superintendent Mike Gilbert. “I want for the co-op, for (its director) Vicki Thornton, and for everybody in our school district to know our money is being used well and our students are receiving the services they need.”
Texas school districts can either provide special education services wholly in their district — as do Longview, Kilgore and Pine Tree school districts — or they can work together in a shared service arrangement, called an SSA.
The Gregg County SSA consists of Gladewater, White Oak, Spring Hill and Sabine school districts, with Sabine being the fiscal agent.
According to documents provided by Sabine ISD Business Director Kevin Yandell, Gladewater will pay $751,610 into the co-op for the 2012-13 fiscal year; Sabine will pay $382,675; White Oak will pay $344,380 while Spring Hill will pay $464,580.
Each school district allocates all of its federal funds for special education into the co-op plus some local money, Yandell said.
The amount of local money each district provides is based on the particular needs of the students in that district, said Director Vicki Thornton.
Since Gladewater ISD includes the Truman W. Smith Children’s Care Center, which serves children with severe physical or mental handicaps, Gladewater’s needs are different from the other districts, officials said.
And costs are rising.
For the 2013-14 school year, the cost to districts participating in the shared services arrangement is set to increase, and Gladewater’s share is predicted to be about $843,000.
Sabine ISD Superintendent Stacey Bryce said the increase is because the four districts agreed three years ago to spend down the fund balance (similar to a savings account) of the SSA. The fund balance has been spent down and now school districts will have to pay more locally to fund the SSA, Bryce said.
However, Richardson said after he talked to co-ops in Upshur and Rusk counties, Gladewater chose to join the Upshur County SSA because the group gives each of its school districts half of their federal funds back each year. That should save Gladewater $225,000 to $350,000, Richardson said, making the switch beneficial to the district’s taxpayers.
“Another co-op may not have the needs that we have,” Thornton said.
“But they may have those needs after Gladewater joins them,” Bryce added.
Bryce and Thornton said cost is based on needs, and the needs of the Upshur County SSA might increase when Gladewater is added to the mix.
Richardson reiterated Wednesday the switch will not cause any loss or change in the services Gladewater ISD students are receiving.
Meanwhile, Bryce and Gilbert said Gladewater dropping out of the Gregg County SSA will not cause any loss or change in services for the remaining students.
Documents showed Gladewater ISD receives a stipend for one adaptive behavior unit teacher, as well as one special education aide and four bus aides for the cost the district incurs each year.
Thornton said Gladewater also receives other personnel such as two full-time diagnosticians, a part-time diagnostician and a full-time speech therapist. However, Richardson said those are not school district employees that are paid for by the co-op.
Bryce contended personnel issues go through the SSA board, which consists of the four superintendents. Bryce said the board had been meeting for the past few years with only three of its members — he, Gilbert and Spring Hill Superintendent Wes Jones.
However, attendance records show Richardson attended all meetings in the 2011-12 school year.
In going through records, Richardson said coding errors among special education students were discovered dating back to 2005. This past year, Gladewater recovered about $500,000 from the Texas Education Agency because of coding errors among special education and Career and Technical Education students.
“We have appealed to TEA for approximately $600,000 to $1.2 million to be reimbursed to us going forward because of coding errors,” Richardson said. “We were coding our students the way the Shared Services Arrangement had required we code our kids.”
Bryce, Gilbert and Jones each said school districts are responsible for coding their own students — not the SSA. However, Richardson said the co-op provides the coding and the school district only inputs it.
“We would expect the coding provided by the SSA to be correct,” Richardson said.