By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — The school corporation here has long had an exemplary special education program, one that's recommended by various health care providers, physicians, and even other school districts.
"We've been able to maintain a very high level of service, but that has become more difficult in the last four to five years as our foundation support has decreased," Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann told the school board during its meeting Thursday morning at Avon Intermediate School East.
In fact, she added, the program typically goes beyond what's required by law to provide for special needs students. With less money, though, administrators have been constantly reassessing for the past year, trying to find ways to be more efficient while still delivering the same level of service.
"What we've discovered is our caseloads aren't as high as any other district," Hoernemann said. "In fact, our K through eight caseloads are much smaller. However, we've also discovered we have some pretty disparate caseloads throughout our school district. It's very difficult - with different programs offered in different buildings - to maintain a reasonable caseload that's similar across all our districts."
The program also is scrutinizing its delivery model to determine whether it's the best way to serve its students. Administrators are now considering bringing in an outside consultant for feedback.
What got them on this track involves the West Central Joint Services Co-op that Avon is in with Brownsburg, Danville, Plainfield, and others. Part of that membership includes access to the Sanders School, a day program for students who need more support than what their home district can provide. Avon currently has 11 students enrolled there.
Last spring, the Wayne Township Metropolitan School Corporation, which operates the Sanders School, announced it was leaving the co-op.
"That took a lot of us by surprise and set us into a scramble mode," Hoernemann said.
Ultimately, Wayne Township decided to remain in the co-op, but Avon still wants to investigate other options.
"This has been like when someone breaks up with you," Hoernemann said. "You start to get used to not being that boyfriend or girlfriend anymore, and then they want to get back together and you've kind of moved on. We're pretty far along the path of thinking of how we might serve our students even better than how we're already serving them."
She cautions discussions are still preliminary. If Avon were to leave the co-op, it would give the other members a year's notice.
"That's to allow other districts time to plan," Hoernemann said.
At this point, the motivation isn't to save money as much as it is to enhance service. While Hoernemann acknowledges that Avon has room to take in outside special needs students, she doesn't think they have the in-house expertise for serious cases.
Pamela DeWeese, the school board's vice president, supported that thinking.
"Taking care of a student with a traumatic brain injury is not the same as taking care of a hearing-impaired student," she said. "It's not as simple as hiring one more teacher."
Hoernemann added that any changes to Avon's special education program would not be enacted until the 2014-15 school year.