MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

August 24, 2013

Special ed co-op disbands

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— BRAGGS — Braggs students with special needs no longer go to Webbers Falls for education.

Officials at six area school districts agreed over the summer to disband a cooperative for special education students. Participating districts were Oktaha, Braggs, Wainwright, Webbers Falls, Okay and Haskell.

“We know change is always difficult,” said Oktaha Superintendent Jerry Needham. “The co-op has existed for over 25 years, and we have evolved over time. We found it was in the best interest for the parties to provide their own services.”

As the lead school in the co-op, Oktaha was the site of many of the co-op’s classes. Webbers Falls offered satellite classes.

Braggs School Superintendent Mike Broyles said the district will spend more money educating special education students on-site than transporting them to Webbers Falls. He said out-of-pocket expense for transportation was approximately $9,000 a year.

He said five students with multiple handicaps were transported to Webbers Falls last year; four would have been transported this year.

This year, Braggs had to hire two paraprofessionals at $13,000 each to care for the students, Broyles said.

Braggs Special Education Director Peggy McDonald said one paraprofessional tends to the four multiple-handicapped students in one classroom while the other works with special needs students mainstreamed into other classes.

McDonald said she likes having the students at Braggs.

“It’s better for the students, because they get to be here at this school instead of shipped to another location,” she said.

Broyles said about 28 percent of the district’s 189 students are special ed students of various levels.

Haskell School Superintendent Sharon Herrington said a classroom at the high school and one at the elementary were converted to special education classrooms. Two special education teachers were hired, and the school is hiring a third one, she said.

Herrington said the district had some paraprofessionals at the co-op who now work at Haskell.

Any economic burden or benefit to keeping special education students at Haskell “is yet to be seen,” Herrington said.

At Wainwright, a speech therapist comes twice a week, and a learning disabilities teacher comes four times a week, Superintendent Jim Ogden said. Each comes for half a day, he said.

“The only reason we’d transfer students would be ones with several handicaps,” Ogden said, adding that Oktaha has agreed to work with Wainwright on the severely handicapped students.

“We pay parents to take them to Oktaha,” Ogden said.

Wainwright serves 130 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade. Ogden said some years, the district has as many as three special needs students.

“A lot of times, we don’t have any,” he said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.