New funding formula spares special-ed district
NAME: Niles Township District for Special Education 807
LOCATION: Based in Morton Grove
SERVICE AREA: School cooperative of districts in Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie and Lincolnwood
LEADERSHIP: Executive Director Tarin Kendrick
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:31AM
Just two years ago the Niles Township District for Special Education was hoping to find a way to stay intact after three of nine member districts voted to withdraw from the special-education cooperative.
That way was found in a revised funding formula that in its first year has given member districts more flexibility in the way they provide services to their special-education students — and kept three of them from dropping out.
Rather than a straight tuition-per-pupil charge, assessments are now based on a fee-for-services model. A hybrid of the new and old systems was successfully tried out this year under a temporary agreement.
Member districts are in the process of approving a revised Articles of Joint Agreement that incorporates the change on a permanent basis.
Under the articles the revised funding formula remains in effect through June 30, 2016, unless all parties agree to modifications before then. That would be the first time a member district could drop from the cooperative, as well.
NTDSE Executive Director Tarin Kendrick said all but one of the nine member-district school boards has approved the new document and the final district also is expected to pass it.
“We’re hoping this will keep us financially stable for several years,” Kendrick said.
Niles Township District for Special Education 807 provides special-education services primarily to students in the nine member elementary districts. Some students from outside the district also receive services on a tuition basis.
Programs are provided at Julia S. Molloy Education Center in Morton Grove, which is owned by NTDSE, as well as in classrooms and other facilities provided by member districts.
More than half of the funding for the special-education district comes from various charges to the nine member districts. But three of those planned to pull out before the new funding formula was adopted.
The cooperative lost its largest member district when Niles Township High School District 219 voted to withdraw in 2003 and went through with it two years later, despite efforts by NTDSE officials to convince District 219 officials to remain in the cooperative. That left just the nine elementary districts in Niles Township as members.
Member districts include Golf District 67, Skokie District 68, Skokie-Morton Grove District 69, Niles District 71, Fairview District 72, East Prairie District 73, Skokie School District 73.5, Fairview South District 72 and Lincolnwood District 74.
Golf Elementary School District 67 in Morton Grove, citing the cost of using NTDSE to provide services to its few special-education students, submitted a letter in June 2009 stating its intention to withdraw from the cooperative. East Prairie District 73 in Skokie and Culver District 71 in Niles submitted letters in 2010 to start the two-year withdrawal process.
But District 67 Superintendent Jamie Reilly said the new system has allowed the financially strapped district to remain in the cooperative.
“This is a much more equitable system,” Reilly said. “If you need services you pay. If you don’t you don’t pay.”
As a result, she said, District 67 and three other Niles Township elementary districts are jointly hiring an occupational therapist who next school year will provide services to all four districts.
“It’s going to be more cost-effective for us,” Reilly said.
Gary Zabilka, superintendent of Park View District 70 in Morton Grove, said that while member districts may save money the new formula will be more complex to administer because of the wide variations in services that districts may receive.
Rather than simply basing charges on the number of students, districts will need to track and itemize specific services they receive.
Though the new system has given NTDSE more stability Kendrick said it will mean changes in staffing, revenue and costs each school year, depending on what member districts need.
“It will vary year to year,” Kendrick said. “That will be the challenge for NTDSE.”
The goal is to have member district provide information on the services they need by Feb. 1 of the previous school year to give Kendrick and her staff time to plan ahead. But that does not mean there won’t be changes as the school year gets closer, especially in some of the districts that have a high rate of students who enter and leave each year.
“We have to be flexible,” Kendrick said. “We have quite a transient population in Niles Township.”
Now that the new policies have been approved and the withdrawal petitions rescinded, officials believe the cooperative can move into a new era of stability.
“It’s exciting. Everybody is staying in the cooperative,” Kendrick said. “It’s exciting that we can provide the best education for our students. We do great things for the kids we’re serving.”