Reduction of funding could strap funding for special education

County has high percentage of special ed students

Staff reporter

In his annual state of the cooperative report, Marion County Special Education Cooperative Director Chris Cezar reminded board members March 31 that changes in Medicaid funding could impact the cooperative's bottom line.

The cooperative had a carry-over of $540,000 from 2007 but those funds will be quickly dispersed because of changes in how Medicaid reimburses the cooperative.

Cezar said that Medicaid funding has changed from a bundled rate to a fee for services. Two years ago the cooperative received $200,000 but some are estimating it will receive only 20 percent of the billing. He commented that thus far the cooperative has only received $1,800.

"We'll need every cent of the carry-over if we don't receive our usual funding," Cezar said.

General census information was shared with the board.

The cooperative provides special education services to the five school districts in Marion County. All students within the county with special needs from birth to 21 years of age are provided services.

There are 403 students being served between the ages of three and 21. In 2006 there were 416.

There are 52 students identified as gifted and seven infant/toddlers receiving special education services.

All school-aged students are being served in their home districts except for those attending the CLASS or OASIS programs.

Infants and toddlers are provided services in their homes, preschoolers in their homes, private pre-schools, or through a Head Start program.

There are approximately 21 percent of Marion County students identified as special education. This is above the state average which is approximately 15 percent. Proper identification of students with special needs and a high number of foster children in Marion County may contribute to the high proportion of special needs students.

Special programs

The CLASS program has five full-time students, second to 10th grade, with multiple disabilities or severe developmental issues. Some have been diagnosed with autism.

Acquisition of life and social skills continues to be the major educational focus. The cooperative has investigated other facilities for this program because of safety concerns of moving the children across the street for lunch. A handicapped-accessible van was purchased to address these concerns.

Outings twice a month are planned that include swimming at the YMCA at El Dorado. Cezar said when the Marion indoor swimming pool is opened, students will swim there.

OASIS has 17 enrolled from grades two through 12. Enrollment typically increases during the spring.

This program continues to provide a valuable service to students with severe behavior/emotional issues.

The foster care system continues to provide a significant amount of issues for the program. There is a continual influx and exiting of students who are in foster care.

Cezar emphasized the importance of these programs. Without them, Cezar said, the students probably would not be adequately served in their home districts.


There are seven teachers on waivers (in the process of obtaining their licenses) and one on a conditional license. All other teachers are fully licensed, Cezar said. There is one speech therapy opening that has not been filled.

Three speech therapists left after the 2005-06 school year and Cezar was able to hire one therapist in December 2006 and another in the summer of 2007.

The instructional coordinator/coach position, held by Denise Brown, has proven to be an asset to the schools, Cezar said. Brown provides support and training to regular and special education teachers.

Daily supervision of staff continues to be conducted by the building principals. Managing approximately 40 certified and 90 classified staff requires the assistance from those principals, Cezar said. Communication between the five districts and the cooperative must be a priority, Cezar said, so a quality education can be provided to students.


It was decided by the cooperative board that the districts could not afford to build a new special education facility. The cooperative decided to move the CLASS program to Peabody-Burns Elementary School. Remodeling is planned this spring.

Student learning

Hillsboro Elementary School has been involved in a pilot program for Multi-Tiered System of Supports, which replaces the term of response to intervention.

This new method of supporting students who are struggling, Cezar said, has shifted the philosophy of education and special education to a certain degree.

MTSS emphasizes a unitary system of regular and special education working together to help those students who struggle.

Areas of improvement

The areas of student learning identified include improvement of reading and math scores of students with special needs, increasing the number of students who spend 80 percent or greater of their time in general education. and increasing use of assistive technology.