District 127 Supports SEDOL Budget
The Special Education District of Lake County successfully reached out to member districts for support to increase tuition rates for 2012 to offset negative funds.
Lack of state payments, a decline in student growth and lack of funds to cover deficit payments are just some of the problems the Special Education District of Lake County is facing, according to Barbara Watson, director of business services, who made this case before the cooperative’s 35 member districts earlier this month.
The special education district’s unreserved fund balance, which is made up of state and local funds, is $3 million in the red, according to its estimated 2010-11 budget. Coupled with no increase in tuition, this would have left the district borrowing to make payroll next year, Watson said.
District 127 was one of 23 districts that voted yes to the cooperative’s proposed budget, which will increase participating districts’ tuition about 10 percent on average. Mundelein District 75 voted against the budget but will remain in the cooperative.
District 127 Director Mark Kettering said the tuition increase affects all Lake County taxpayers who live in a SEDOL member district. Remaining in the cooperative is more cost-effective than for an individual district try to offer comparable programming on its own.
Kettering said the exact financial impact the tuition increase would have on the district is unknown, as it relies upon the number of students who use SEDOL programs. However, at a May 26 District 127 Board of Education meeting, Ann Dingman, District 127’s board president and a SEDOL Executive Board member, estimated that the tuition increase would be about 10 percent, or a $100,000 increase.
At the same meeting Kettering said pulling out of the cooperative would be costly. “The cost to do it ourselves would be astronomical to serve a few students,” he said, pointing to the cost of adding specialty programming and staff, among other things.
He also said that because District 127 does house some SEDOL programs, some of the cost would be credited back to the district.
The District 127 Board of Education unanimously agreed to support SEDOL’s budget before voting took place June 8.
Being a member also allows member districts to benefit from SEDOL’s services for less cost than nonmember districts. For example, the member district rate to have students attend Laremont School for 2011-12 is $36,800; a nonmember district would pay $68,288, more if a para-professional was necessary.
Delp said most Lake County school districts have about 15 to 18 percent of students who are identified as having disabilities. “SEDOL serves about 1 to 2 percent of that population, with those being moderate to the most severely disabled,” he said.
SEDOL serves 35 of 45 districts in Lake County. Waukegan, Barrington and Lake Zurich are not members of the cooperative. Lake Zurich petitioned to withdraw from SEDOL two years ago.
SEDOL Superintendent Bill Delp said, “They are a larger unit district and felt they could provide the needed special services internally.”
Other Lake County districts located in the North Shore, such as Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Deerfield, belong to the Northern Suburban Special Education District. Unlike most school districts, SEDOL does not have the ability to levy taxes, cannot go out for referendum and has no working cash fund.
Dropping enrollment also has led to staff cuts.
And while Delp said that SEDOL supports students being educated in their home districts, he said schools have hired recently fired SEDOL teachers for their own programs, which perpetuates enrollment decreases that lead to cost increases. These increased costs affect both SEDOL and districts that remain in the cooperative.
“As our enrollment goes down, we are left with the most severely disabled students, which increases tuition costs and impacts all member districts,” he said.
SEDOL also took time to recognize a variety of students from different districts, including Grayslake District 127 member Jamie Hardy, who was applauded for his role as a special Olympian.