This past summer, O’Fallon High School District 203 began the process to withdraw from the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative and provide services to its special-needs students itself.
Some wondered whether the move, which still needs state approval, would set off a chain reaction of districts fleeing BASSC and throwing the future of the cooperative in doubt.
But area educators say they need BASSC — especially smaller districts, which would be unable financially to fund the services the cooperative provides for only a handful of students.
“Right now we share costs with 23 other districts when it comes to school psychologists and those types of things,” said Jon Green, superintendent of Millstadt District 160. “When you’re talking about hiring your own, putting them on your own pay scale, that’s significantly more money.”
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Larger districts like O’Fallon, which serves a smaller age range, may be better equipped to handle taking on their own special services because the range of needs would actually be less, said Jennifer Filyaw, superintendent of Wesclin Community Unit School District 3 in Trenton.
“Their concentration of students is a four-grade span (grades 9-12), where ours is (kindergarten through 12th grade). They could hire one teacher with a four-year span,” Filyaw said.
“Not being part of BASSC is not an option,” she said. “For these specialized programs, we don’t have enough students” to justify leaving the cooperative.
What is BASSC?
BASSC is an educational cooperative that educates or provides therapies to students ages 3 to 21. It educates children who have autism, are hearing impaired, or have social, emotional or learning disabilities.
BASSC also helps the 24 school districts that fund it apply for federal and state grants and compile fiscal reports — tasks that would overwhelm some smaller districts, according to school officials.
The cooperative has 22 school psychologists that the member districts share. They evaluate children who may or may not receive services, as well as special education teachers and paraprofessionals.
“We have a heavy hand in consultation and legal,” said Jeff Daugherty, executive director of BASSC. He said BASSC makes sure students get the services they need that are required by state law.
The BASSC service with the highest profile is Pathways — a school on the BASSC campus in Belleville that educates so-called “low-incidence” students — those with behavior, learning and physical disabilities. This year the school has 115 students.
Those teachers are hard to find … the specialized programs, we don’t have enough students.
Jennifer Filyaw, Wesclin superintendent
The kindergarten class has seven students, who were attended to by one teacher, one paraprofessional and two individual care aides. Daugherty said it’s a small class so far this year; the last two years the kindergarten finished the year with 11 or 12 kids.
Legally, a special education classroom can have up to 13 children per teacher, Daugherty said.
“From a safety and functional standpoint, you don’t want anywhere near that,” he said.
Behind the scenes at BASSC are the bookkeepers and administrators who ensure districts are properly billed for services provided to students in the program, and that the myriad of laws that govern special education are followed.
BASSC also provides teachers, therapists, psychologists and others to go to the member schools.
“Three years ago, we had no students going to BASSC,” said Jon Green, superintendent of Millstadt District 160. “It didn’t mean we weren’t using their services; they were coming to us. Last year we had 11 students (go to BASSC); it ebbs and flows.”
Why O’Fallon wants to withdraw
This year, O’Fallon is sending 14 students to BASSC, which would require the district to hire personnel for a self-contained classroom.
“We don’t send a large population of our services to BASSC; we are already providing a large number of services in-house,” said Darcy Benway, superintendent of O’Fallon District 203.
Benway acknowledged that students are benefiting from BASSC, and there’s going to be additional costs to “run it in-house, including hiring a psychologist, an administrator to coordinate and probably some bookkeeping/secretarial employee that BASSC is currently doing on our behalf.”
But she said the district has analyzed data and coordinated with the districts that feed into District 203 to look at upcoming needs. She said even with the district make a bond payment to BASSC, which pays for the buildings on Green Mount Road that house administration and Pathways, the district still would benefit financially from the change — in large part because of the services the district already provides.
We don’t send a large population of our services to BASSC; we are already providing a large number of services in-house.
Dr. Darcy Benway, superintendent of O’Fallon District 203
If O’Fallon District 203 successfully withdraws from BASSC, it will save the nearly half-million dollars it pays to the cooperative, but will still pay it’s annual bond obligation. Last year, that was just more than $45,000.
Benway said the high school can do all of that, while providing better value to taxpayers. In the last three years, the district has paid about $690,000 for BASSC services for about 20 students, she said. That does not include transportation costs.
Belleville High School District 201 tries to balance two things when looking at the costs and benefits of cooperatives like BASSC: significance of the need and the economy of scale.
“A small district may have one or two students; it doesn’t make sense for them to start a new service,” said Melissa Taylor, director of special services at District 201. “The other reason is that the disability is so significant that it needs (services that are) more specialized.”
“The more kids you have, the more cost is kept down,” Daugherty said.
Green agreed. “Right now we share costs with 23 districts when it comes to school psychologists and those types of things. When you’re talking about hiring your own putting them on your own pay scale, that’s significantly more money,” he said.
One of the many considerations for districts is continuity of education for the individual student, Taylor said.
“It’s a littler harder once a student and parent are comfortable in a BASSC program,” she said. “It’s a little harder in the junior year to say, ‘Hey, we want to bring you back.’”
Other alternatives to BASSC
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, there are 65 special education cooperatives in the state. In the last 10 years, about 45 schools have withdrawn from those cooperatives, as O’Fallon District 203 wishes to do. ISBE says four cooperatives have dissolved in the last 10 years, and five new joint cooperative agreements were formed in that same time.
Wesclin is one of the districts that left another cooperative to join BASSC.
“This is our fourth year with BASSC,” Filyaw said. “Before we were part of (another) special education cooperative, but my understanding is that they thought the services by BASSC were better. ... We’re right in the middle of Clinton and St. Clair,” so Wesclin has the advantage of choosing cooperatives based on its students’ needs.
Brooklyn District 188 is not in BASSC. Last year it paid East St. Louis District 189 about $150,000 to educate 10 special-needs students.
65 Number of special education cooperatives in the state, according to the Illinois State Board of Education
Henrietta Young, Brooklyn District 188 superintendent, says her small district of about 150 students, says she is pleased with the services the district receives from East St. Louis for special education services.
“We would have to hire at least three teachers, plus benefits, and it’s costly enough paying for those services in East St. Louis,” Young said.
East St. Louis did not return calls for comment after the assistant director of special education, Kimberly D. Hopkins, initially said she did not know how many students the district had in its special education department or how many from other districts were served.
Besides Brooklyn, the East St. Louis, Cahokia and Dupo school districts are not in BASSC. They could not be reached for comment.
Amounts paid to BASSC
School district costs do not include transportation, flow-through federal money or costs a district may have for its own special-needs personnel.
- Belleville District 118: $1,345,285
- Belleville District 201: $1,554,161
- Belle Valley: $372,337
- Central in O’Fallon: $289,025
- Wesclin in Trenton: $303,554
- Freeburg Elementary: $131,434
- Freeburg High School: $281,931
- Grant in Fairview Heights: $338,088
- Harmony Emge in Belleville: $203,284
- High Mount in Swansea: $189,097
- Lebanon: $361,884
- Marissa: $217,548
- Mascoutah: $1,057,785
- Millstadt: $206,225
- New Athens: $98,046
- O’Fallon District 90: $749,980
- O’Fallon District 203: $491,496
- St. Libory: $55,178
- Shiloh: $239,304
- Signal Hill in Belleville: $125,901
- Smithton: $65,742
- Pontiac in Fairview Heights: $368,183
- Wolf Branch in Swansea: $340,891
- Whiteside in Belleville: $328,612
Estimated fiscal year 2016 local assessments
Local assessment refers to the amount of property taxes paid to a school district that are passed on to the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative.
- Belleville District 118: $99,084
- Belleville District 201: $127,364
- Belle Valley: $25,848
- Central in O’Fallon: $14,716
- Freeburg Elementary: $20,520
- Freeburg High School: $16,304
- Grant in Fairview Heights: $23,412
- Harmony Emge in Belleville: $20,232
- High Mount in Swansea: $11,064
- Lebanon: $16,164
- Marissa: $14,916
- Mascoutah: $93,340
- Millstadt: $21,976
- New Athens: $13,576
- O’Fallon District 90: $91,252
- O’Fallon District 203: $65,464
- Pontiac in Fairview Heights: $18,468
- St. Libory: $2,456
- Shiloh: $15,680
- Signal Hill: $9,088
- Smithton: $13,636
- Wesclin in Trenton: $34,336
- Whiteside in Belleville: $34,576
- Wolf Branch in Swansea: $23,412