Cuero opting out of special education co-op

Sonny Long

March 27, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated March 27, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.

Scott Appelt works on a project in his homeroom at Cuero High School. Cuero school district will leave the DeWitt-Lavaca  Special Education Cooperative at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

Scott Appelt works on a project in his homeroom at Cuero High School. Cuero school district will leave the DeWitt-Lavaca Special Education Cooperative at the end of the 2013-14 school year.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

The Cuero school district is leaving the DeWitt-Lavaca Special Education Cooperative.

The district will no longer be a member of the multidistrict co-op after the 2013-14 school year.

What that means for the 65 to 70 students who attend the co-op from school districts other than Cuero is up to their respective districts.

One of the current co-op students from Hallettsville, Scott Appelt, has attended the co-op since he was 3. The 2013-14 school year will be his last to be eligible for a co-op because he turns 22.

His mother, Judy Appelt who taught special education for more than 20 years, thinks the change for other students could go either way.

"The transition will probably be rough at first, but sometimes change is good," she said. "There's a chance it could mean new facilities."

"In talking to other parents, everyone is kind of holding their breath to see what will happen. The kids will have to be served," she said.

Moving forward

The Cuero school district has until Oct. 1 to submit a letter to the Texas Education Agency withdrawing as the fiscal agent of the co-op, said Brian Billstein, co-op director.

Billstein, who has been its director for 20 of its 35 years of existence, said he understands the future for him and his staff is uncertain until plans are finalized for the 2014-15 school year.

But Billstein is certain the students will be taken care of by the school districts.

"Federal and state law requires special education students receive services according to their ARD minutes," Billstein said.

ARD - admission, review, and dismissal - meetings are held with special education students, their parents, educators and administrators on an annual basis.

Superintendents in other member districts are making plans to continue the co-op without Cuero.

"Cuero has done a good job as the fiscal agent. We are very appreciative of the job they have done but also respect their decision," said Tom Kelley, Yoakum school district superintendent.

"We have to do what is best for our children to meet the needs of our kids," he said. "We have to move forward and begin planning for the future. There is a lot to get worked out."

Hallettsville superintendent Jo Ann Bludau agreed.

"The superintendents who are members of the co-op are working together," she said. "Our board will be discussing the situation in the coming months.

"Cuero continuing as the fiscal agent through the 2013-14 school year gives us time for planning. Our goal is to make sure there is no interruption of services for any of our special education students."

Reasons for change

Cuero superintendent Jim Haley said the district's board of trustees decided in January to leave the co-op.

The co-op serves more than 100 students from 13 school districts in the two counties.

Haley said growing attendance in the district is one of the factors in the decision.

"We need to use some of the classrooms for our own classes and programs which are currently being used by the DLSEC (the cooperative's) multidistrict classes," Haley said.

Between February 2010 and February 2013, enrollment in the Cuero school district increased from 1,872 to 2,054 students.

Costs, too, are a factor, explained Haley.

"The estimated value for providing the services and facilities needed for the co-op is about $400,000," he said.

Cuero school district is paid about $48,000 as compensation from the other member districts, he said.

Number of students

Cuero has about 191 children with special needs, and 44 of them attend the co-op multi-district classes, said Haley.

While the actual student count may vary from day to day, in addition to the Cuero students, the co-op serves about 30 students from Yoakum, 15 from Hallettsville, 10 from Yorktown, seven from Shiner, three from Moulton, two from Westhoff and one from Meyersville.

"Each district currently serves more students with less severe needs on their home campuses," he said.

Haley said the Cuero school district would continue to meet the needs of its own special education students when it is no longer a member of the co-op.

About 100 employees work for the co-op including a dozen teachers, several therapists, and three administrators, Haley said.



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