Harmony School District 175 board members on Monday evening approved a lease agreement that allows a private special education company to lease some space in Ellis Elementary School to teach metro-east students with the most profound mental and behavioral disabilities.
The board voted 4-3 to approve the one-year lease with Sequel Youth and Family Services.
According to the lease agreement, Sequel will rent two classrooms, an office and a social worker’s room from the school district from June 1 of this year to May 31, 2017. The deal is worth $125,000. Sequel will pay quarterly installments of $31,250.
The agreement gives Sequel the opportunity to pay to reserve cafeteria and gymnasium time for its staff and students. Sequel also will pay for IT services it uses and will pay for use of the district’s copy machine. Sequel must receive approval from the state and must comply with rules set by the state and by the district.
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Board members Scott Loeffler, Todd Rick and Shannon Perschbacher voted against approving the lease. Lisa Zamfir, Chuck Evans, Rob Phillips and Dr. Nathaniel Anderson — a new board member sworn in at the beginning of the meeting — voted in favor.
After abstaining from seven straight votes, Anderson tallied his ‘yes’ vote for the Sequel lease. He then abstained from two of the remaining three votes. That earned scoffs from attendees in the packed meeting room.
Neither Anderson nor other board members or administrators were available for comment because the board voted to enter closed session.
The proposed Sequel lease has divided board members and district residents since the middle of last year. Supporters of the agreement have said bringing the students to a local site for special education is better than busing them to St. Louis and back every day, which is the current arrangement. The lease agreement contains provisions that give Harmony students priority over other students if they qualify for Sequel’s program.
Opponents have worried that bringing the students Sequel would teach to the school could put current students at risk. They also said the current use of three classrooms vacated after Fourth Grade classes were moved out of Ellis is working well. Class sizes, they said, have become more manageable thanks to the extra space.
Anderson replaces Bob Peyman on the board. Peyman resigned late last year because he moved out of the district. Anderson was sworn in just minutes into Monday’s meeting. Another outgoing member, Loeffler, remained on the board until late in the meeting. When his resignation was accepted, Thomas Johnson was sworn in to replace him. Loeffler said the demands of recently moving to full-time ministry led him to resign his seat.
It’s unclear why the new members were sworn in at different times.