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Special education budget tight, but move is still on

Managing editor

State cuts may not be affecting Marion County Special Education Cooperative as much as school districts, but they still have an impact.

Unlike school districts, the cooperative receives state money per teacher instead of per student.

“We’re not planning to cut any positions or services at this time,” cooperative director Chris Cezar said.

However, he said he was just as concerned about the 2010-11 school year as he was the 2009-10 year, which will begin July 1.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were further cuts,” he said, and they could result in changes locally.

The county cooperative serves five school districts in Marion County.

After being based in Florence and leasing facilities from USD 408 for 10 years and recently, one building from the City of Florence, the cooperative is relocating.

A new facility would have been too costly, and renovation of two of the older buildings in the Florence campus was not feasible.

Mold and overall disrepair led the cooperative to relocate one program to Peabody-Burns Elementary School for students with the highest special needs.

The OASIS program, for students with behavioral and social issues, had been in the basement of the gym in Florence, and central offices were in a third building in Florence which USD 408 retained after the City of Florence bought the other two buildings.

Cezar appreciates the efforts by USD 398 to accommodate the program.

“It worked out well,” Cezar said. “The staff enjoyed being in Peabody.”

However, the special education board of directors wanted all operations under one roof.

When Golden Living Center Nursing Home near Marion Elementary School closed, the cooperative jumped at the chance to purchase and renovate the building.

“The main advantage is students will have more educational opportunities with access to other district amenities,” Cezar said.

With USD 408’s indoor swimming pool practically next door, and Marion Middle School/High School a few blocks away, students and faculty will have easier access to facilities, and students can easily be “mainstreamed” into classes.

Marion also is more centrally located in the county, reducing travel by students.

“It should be a great savings to the districts,” Cezar said.

Cezar said renovations were on schedule, the cooperative would be operating at the facility in August.

“They have been working on the classrooms first, so for sure they will be completed in time,” he said.

Regier Construction of Newton is contractor. Renovation will cost $347,000. The cooperative purchased the building for $100,000.

The cooperative has a staff of five in its central office, seven teachers, nine para-professionals, and some part-time faculty and staff.

The cooperative had been paying $50,000 a year for the three buildings in Florence to USD 408. When the move was planned, state cuts were not known.

Even with the debt from the purchase and renovation, Cezar said he had no regrets.

“Five years from now, we’ll look back and know this was the right thing to do financially,” he said. “No question it was the right thing to do for the kids.”

Last modified June 11, 2009

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