The rural school districts in Southwest Colorado have shared resources through the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services for decades, but Durango School District 9-R may decide to go it alone at the school board meeting Tuesday night. Disentangling the two organizations may not be as complex as Brexit, Great Britain exiting the European Union, but it would probably take some time and negotiations.
But even the approval of the resolution may not signal a departure.
“We are awaiting an independent audit that will help us determine if we will move forward with an application to be our own administrative unit,” Snowberger said in a text message Saturday. “With this being the last board meeting before August, the board felt it best they pass a resolution to allow us to move forward once the audit is received. There will be no final determination until the audit is received and we ensure that a separation is fiscally wise for both 9-R and the BOCES.”
How the resignation of 9-R from the cooperative would affect both the BOCES’ $7.8 million and District 9-R’s $43 million budgets, whether BOCES would have to lay off staff or discontinue programs, how the separation might affect other districts in the cooperative and what becomes of grants BOCES has received to serve the entire nine-member cooperative are questions that have yet to be answered.
“The district has been considering separation from the San Juan BOCES for many years, even prior to the current superintendent or board tenure,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said in a report to the board for their agenda. “In the fall, the board and superintendent agreed to formally review the process while keeping the executive director of BOCES in the loop on our consideration.”
Adrea Bogle, the new executive director of Exceptional Student Services for San Juan BOCES, asked 9-R to delay the decision, he said, but Snowberger is evaluating all program expenses to see where savings are possible before the district goes to the voters for a $1.7 million tax increase in November.
“Our San Juan BOCES Board has not been asked to consider the issue,” Bogle said in an email Friday afternoon, “and we have not been made aware of the results of the financial audit conducted last month by Durango 9-R. For those reasons, I cannot comment on a potential change in membership with the San Juan BOCES.”
To understand what the departure would mean, it’s important to understand the role of a Board of Cooperative Education Services. They provide educational services to multiple school districts that could not afford them alone or may find it more cost-effective to share staff or services, according to the Colorado BOCES Association.
Each BOCES and its districts decide what services the cooperative will offer. In San Juan BOCES’ case, the services include early childhood; gifted education; special education; occupational, physical and speech therapy; language for students with special needs, such as dyslexia; school social workers; school safety; staff professional development; and resources for hearing-impaired students. In addition to Durango, the cooperative’s members include the Bayfield, Ignacio, Archuleta, Dolores, Dolores County, Mancos, Montezuma-Cortez and Silverton school districts.
District 9-R is by far the largest district in the cooperative. The district says in the resolution that it has the financial capability, sufficient systems in place and a qualified special education director on staff to internally perform the functions San Juan BOCES has traditionally covered for it.
“This past year, a number of districts our size did in fact separate from BOCES units in the state,” Snowberger said. “I believe Aspen and Summit County were two who separated from the Mountain BOCES. This would be a fiscal decision and not one based on dissatisfaction with the organization. We’d like to remain an associate member, as there is so much more we do together other than special education. That is the only impact with a separation in our eyes.”