As districts step up, SEDOM’s role wanes

D-200 plans to withdraw; others scale back involvement in special education district

Likely at a regular meeting next week, Woodstock District 200’s school board will sit down and vote for complete withdrawal from the Special Education District of McHenry County.

It’s a measure board members say will save them from paying an $80,000 annual administrative fee – a fee they say has added up to $640,000 since 2005-06 for “no direct student services,” according to the district’s written rationale for withdrawal.

And on a larger scale, it’s a measure that represents a changing way that McHenry County school districts provide for special education students.

SEDOM’s imprint has shrunk dramatically in recent years. In May, citing reduced enrollment and fewer requests for services, the district announced it would cut about 50 percent of employees at the end of the school year, 122 positions in all.

“[SEDOM] was created to help districts provide something they weren’t able to provide at the time,” SEDOM Executive Director Kathy Wilhoit said. “Through the years, the districts have been better able to provide [their own services].

“The role has been changing over the last 10 years now.”

Mark Kovack, Crystal Lake District 155 assistant superintendent of educational services, said the number of children the district has enrolled in SEDOM programs continues to shrink every year.

“We always look to provide services within our district before we look at an outside service provider,” Kovack said. “That allows us to keep students within their local community and treat them as any other student would be treated.”

He said 14 students are in SEDOM programs this year, down from 19 a year ago.

Those numbers likely will continue to decrease as students who’ve enrolled in SEDOM finish their education with the district. More students are starting out within Crystal Lake elementary schools, Kovack said.

Throughout the district of about 6,700 students, about 11 percent have an individualized education plan, which defines the objectives for a child with disabilities.

The students who do travel to SEDOM tend to require more intensive levels of care, although, Kovack added, there’s no “cookie-cutter approach” to deciding a student’s path.

Harvard District 50 spokesman Bill Clow said administrators in District 50 have similarly scaled back their use of SEDOM.

“I think there’s a couple different things. One, if we’re able to provide services in-house, it’s easier for the students,” Clow said. “They don’t have to travel to Woodstock.

“It’s in many cases less expensive if we can provide the services in-house.”

Clow said that in each of the past eight years the district has reduced the number of students who use SEDOM.

District 200 representatives declined to comment for this story, citing an interest in not speaking publicly until a vote is taken.

But their written rationale provides a look at what has been a decadelong shift to providing their own special education services.

The district says that because of a lack of proximity to SEDOM programs, the district began developing its own special education services during the 2002-03 school year, gradually developing them through the years.

In 2007, the district added a therapeutic day program for students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders.

In all, the rationale says, 95 students have returned to the district’s programs from outside providers such as SEDOM.

In 2005-06, the district was granted “Tier 1” status in SEDOM. That reduced status, the district says, costs $80,000 a year and is a precursor to withdrawal. The rationale says that “several” others in the 18-school district cooperative have initiated the process to apply for Tier 1 status, but it doesn’t name which districts.

Clow and Novack said their respective districts had made no plans to make such a move. But neither ruled it out, either.

“It’s something that we’re mindful of,” Novack said. “Across the entire county, there’s a reduced footprint at SEDOM, and as that footprint decline, all of the districts are forced to monitor things both from a services perspective and a financial perspective.”

As for what SEDOM might look like five or 10 years down the road, Wilhoit said that plan is still forming.

“That’s a tough question to answer at this point,” she said. “The role of SEDOM is changing and has been for some time. We have had some conversations about the role and how it will be changing in the future ... but I don’t think we’ve come to any decisions yet.”

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