After reconsideration, School Board approves Wetmore preschool
The Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education has reversed their June decision, voting Monday to begin a State Preschool program at Wetmore Academic Center — effective this school year.
In April, the board first was presented with the request to add a State Preschool program at Wetmore.
While Axtell and Sabetha currently offer both State Preschool and IEP Preschool options, Wetmore does not.
Wetmore students who qualified did have the option of being bussed to Sabetha for these preschools, but not many families choose to do this.
To qualify for State Preschool, students must have turned 4-year-old by Aug. 31 and meet at least one of the eight criteria set by the state to qualify for the program.
In June, former Principal Janelle Boden presented a sample schedule with numerous changes for the 2017-18 school year to save money, integrate classrooms and incorporate the MTSS Walk to Intervention time, as well as to add a preschool program.
The preschool program would be integrated with the kindergarten class Monday through Thursday mornings.
These changes would allow the program to be added at Wetmore with one-time classroom and curriculum expenses, but no additional staffing expenses.
At the June meeting, a knotted 3-3 vote resulted in a failed motion to add the program. In favor were Board Members Jeff DeMint, Kent Kuckelman and Ed Reznicek. Opposed were Board Members Kathy Lippert, Jim Scoby and Leslie Scoby. Saylor was absent from that meeting.
The Wetmore preschool issue was revisited at the board’s regular meeting held Monday, July 10. Superintendent Todd Evans said he felt after the last meeting that he failed to provide the board with comprehensive information. He said he felt he let the board down by not having the answers to questions they needed.
Most of those questions surrounded how the addition of a State Preschool program at Wetmore would then require that early childhood special education students also be served at Wetmore.
To help answer those questions, Amy Haussler with the Holton Special Education Cooperative was present to provide more information on the special education aspect of a preschool program.
While the district would be approving just a State Preschool program, the approval would then require that early childhood special education students be serviced at the Wetmore school as well, she said.
Haussler said the reason offering preschool at Wetmore must include special education students, if there are any, is that the special education student must receive services in the “least restrictive environment,” which would mean the location that is closest to home, among other things.
Haussler explained that, in the past few years, the idea behind special education services has changed from what is used to be. Now, the requirement is to provide those services in a regular education classroom alongside regular education students. She said that at least 50 percent of the students in the classroom must be considered regular education students.
Lippert asked how it would affect the program if more than half of the preschool students were special education. Haussler said it could minimally affect funding, but the bigger picture is that a better environment for the special education students is to have at least a 50-50 balance. However, any district in the cooperative has the ability to make adjustments on a yearly basis to ensure students are being best served at a different location, she said.
Lippert asked what the enrollment projections were. Current Wetmore kindergarten teacher Anissa Bloom said there are six to seven in kindergarten, and six to seven in preschool — dependent upon qualification for the preschool.
L. Scoby asked if a student could be screened at 3-years-old mid-year and be admitted. Haussler said that a student who is identified as special education must be allowed to start on their third birthday.
Early childhood special education services include 3- to 5-year-olds. To qualify for these services, a student must have a one-year delay at screening, Haussler said.
L. Scoby asked how many special education students are being serviced. Haussler said that the USD No. 113 caseload is smaller than that is some of the other districts in the cooperative, in which one teacher is servicing the entire district.
Lippert asked what cost would be incurred by adding preschool at Wetmore. Haussler said the cooperative assesses the district’s cost based on a combination of factors, including total headcount and IEP (Individual Education Plan, or special education) headcount.
The cost is the same regardless of which building the student is located in, she said, so a student who lives in Wetmore or Goff but qualifies as special education would be included in the IEP count whether that student is receiving services in Wetmore or Sabetha. Therefore, there would be no added cost associated with adding services at Wetmore.
Lippert asked if Haussler could give any examples of a single special education teacher serving three separate buildings in towns located as far apart as are Sabetha, Wetmore and Axtell.
Haussler said she did not have a similar example to share, as early childhood education is very different than even grade school. However, she said there is only one teacher serving all five districts in the cooperative in the gifted program.
At the meeting in June, the question that seemed to draw the most concern from board members was how often the special education preschool teacher — Donna Elder — would need to travel from Sabetha to Axtell and Wetmore to provide services.
Haussler explained that Sabetha uses a co-teaching early childhood education model, in which both the special education teacher and the regular education teacher serve students in the same room at the same time.
When it comes to providing a program in Axtell or Wetmore, a special education teacher is not on-site all the time, but would be required to directly supervise at least 10 percent of the special education services. Special education paraeducators provide a lot of the services, she said, which are provided in chunks of 15 minutes or 30 minutes.
If a program is offered at Wetmore, Haussler said, the special education students at Sabetha would not be “shortchanged.” It might “feel different,” she said, but the students would still be served fully.
Haussler said she the special education cooperative does not set specific time requirements for the special education teachers, but instead require that the needs are being appropriately met.
This is why, she said, that when she looked at the needs and the numbers, she feels that the current special education teacher could fulfill the needs for Axtell and Wetmore in a half day a week. This would amount to one class period out of the eight offered at Sabetha.
Haussler said that the special education teacher in USD No. 113 has said she is willing to service the students in whatever way is needed.
“We will adjust our personnel to go where they need to go to serve all of the kids,” Haussler said.
Superintendent Evans said that the current needs would allow the current special education teacher to travel to Axtell and Wetmore on Tuesday mornings, then be back to Sabetha by the middle of the day. This would be pending any changes during the year, he said.
“It seems we have a plan that we can allocate the special ed services in a reasonable fashion,” Reznicek said. “I believe this amounts to a reasonable and fair allocation of special education resources.”
Saylor said he has examined the issue quite a bit. He believes that the Wetmore staff has come up with an innovative idea, and he said he hates to hold the staff back. He said he does not see this as a new program, but as offering the same program at a new location.
Kuckelman said it has been drilled into his head every year he has been on the board that “we have to get to these kids at an earlier age,” and he believes this is a good opportunity to do this.
“What we have the opportunity to do is reach more preschool kids in the Goff and Wetmore area with the current staff we have. It’s where the highest ratio of at risk students are,” Reznicek said. “To me, it seems like an innovative idea that our Wetmore staff have brought to us, and they deserve a chance to see how they can make it work.”
DeMint motioned that the request to approve a State Preschool program at Wetmore. The board approved the request 6-1, with Reznicek, Lippert, Saylor, L. Scoby, Kuckelman and DeMint in favor. J. Scoby abstained.
Read full meeting minutes here. (Prairie Hills USD No. 113 Board of Education 7.10.17)
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Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.