Durango School District 9-R has applied to leave the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services after receiving the results of an independent audit.
“In addition to the efficiencies we will achieve by being fully accountable for our special education students, the audit shows both entities will be fiscally sustainable,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said. “They remain an organization with an over $6.3 million budget annually, even without our $1.9 million. This is not so much a desire to separate from BOCES as it is a desire for us to be responsible for our own special-education needs.”
School District 9-R must get approval from the Colorado Department of Education to form its own administrative unit. In June, the 9-R Board of Education approved a resolution to allow Snowberger to make the request if the audit showed the two organizations would be viable after a split.
San Juan BOCES, founded in 1973, serves nine school districts in Southwest Colorado, including Bayfield, Ignacio, Archuleta County, Dolores, Dolores County, Mancos, Silverton and Montezuma-Cortez. It leverages regional resources to provide services such as early childhood programs, gifted and special education programs, school psychologists and social workers. By far and away, BOCES’ largest expenditure is on special-needs students.
“We have 25 percent of the special-needs students in the BOCES,” Snowberger said, “but we’re paying 36 percent of the cost. We need that money in the district because the needs are skyrocketing. We have 4,600 kids and ample staff to deal with these issues. We have to ask, ‘Do we really want to ask some other bureaucracy for permission?’ We need agility to deal with our kids.”
Snowberger hired two new special education teachers and four new paraprofessionals before school let out in May, but had to hire three more paraprofessionals last week after more special-needs students enrolled.
The San Juan BOCES board of directors held a work session Wednesday to discuss 9-R’s plans and how that would impact the organization’s staffing, structure and ability to provide the variety of educational supports it offers its member districts. Board members and area superintendents left with more questions than answers.
“We still need to parse out the impact on individual districts when Montezuma-Cortez becomes the largest district in the cooperative,” said Adrea Bogle, executive director of San Juan BOCES. “We need to figure out what services are realistic, what staffing will look like without Durango.”
Based on a suggestion by Jack Schuenemeyer, president of the BOCES board, the group passed a resolution requesting that CDE take the full 60 days it’s allowed to decide on the application, so San Juan BOCES will have time to analyze impacts on individual districts and submit any information on potential harm from the separation.
Paula Sublett, BOCES financial director, will have a report ready for the board on those impacts for its Sept. 21 meeting. At that time, the board will decide whether to do nothing, support or argue against the separation.
“But Durango is the applicant,” Snowberger said, “so our representative abstained because we don’t know how our board would feel about it being delayed.”
If the separation is approved, 9-R would form a committee to manage the transition, with the money going directly into the district’s coffers as of Jul 1, 2017.