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Article posted: 3/10/2012 8:00 AM

District 207 special ed program won't change, officials say

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Maine Township High School District 207 officials say special education students won't notice much of a difference with the program this fall even with the district pulling out of a special education cooperative, which includes three feeder elementary districts.

District 207 provides special education services to 1,017 students districtwide, including 39 students who receive occupational and physical therapy as well as vision services through the Maine Township Special Education Program, started in the early 1960s when special education students were not incorporated into mainstream classrooms.

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Last July, District 207 decided to dissolve the cooperative with East Maine Elementary District 63, Park Ridge-Niles District 64 and Des Plaines Elementary District 62, and to handle the program in-house.

The District 207 school board this week voted to send reduction-in-force (RIF) notices effective June 30 to 25employees, including 14 staff members who are part of the special education cooperative. School districts are required by law to provide RIF notices well before the end of the current school year.

Of the 14 special education cooperative staff being let go, 11 are occupational or physical therapists and three are support staff, district spokesman Dave Beery said.

Beery said it's likely that many of the employees who receive RIF notices will be rehired by either District 207 or one of the other districts once staffing needs are assessed.

Lynette Williams, Maine Township Special Education Program director, said parents can rest assured that their children's education won't be compromised. Williams said the cooperative already was decentralized, meaning each member district ran its own program and shared resources and services where needed.

With the dissolution of the cooperative, District 207 will have to hire its own occupational and speech therapists that were previously shared, and the district may enter into an intergovernmental agreement with another district for vision services, officials said.

"In terms of programming, we are not looking at losing any teachers," Williams said.

One change students may notice is the district will have one full-time equivalent therapist serving all three high schools -- Maine West, East and South -- instead of a separate part-time therapist for each school.

While the reason for dissolving the cooperative was to save on costs for the elementary districts, District 207's expenses actually will increase by about $200,000, said Mary Kalou, assistant superintendent for business. The district currently spends $435,000 yearly to administer the cooperative program. The added expense is largely because District 207 will now be required by state law to hire a full-time special education director.

Williams, who splits her time as director for District 207 and the cooperative program, is retiring along with a few other special education program staff. The district recently hired Williams' replacement, but is yet to hire any additional staff.

"We've really lost our special education administrative team at the district level," Kalou said. "We're really rebuilding the special education program on the administrative side. We will have services up and running for students absolutely by next year."

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