Beachwood City Schools halted immediate plans to end their administration of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Consortium Program at Monday's meeting.
"In the absence of an immediate, viable replacement for the Beachwood D/HH Consortium Program, we suspend our earlier plans to recommend the termination of Beachwood's role as manager and fiscal agent" of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consortium Program at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, Superintendent Rich Markwardt recommended to the Board.
"We wanted to see that anywhere the students landed would be as good as better than what we currently offer, and we didn’t find it," Markwardt said.
The 50 or so community members in the room followed the announcement with a smattering of applause and questions about the future of the program.
See the entire presentation here.
But Markwardt took a firm stance on how the district would handle controversy surrounding the program moving forward.
The district will not “continue at the rate we are right now spending district administrative resources to address the misinformation, to clarify our position and to defend our stance with this program,” Markwardt said.
“What we’re looking at is a program whose fate is really in its own hands and in the hands of the IEP teams in the districts that refer students to this program,” he added.
The district will continue to administer it, but if enrollment continues to decline, staffing cuts could be made.
Enrollment has dropped from about 39 in 2001 to 25 this school year, and staff has been reduced from about 26 full-time employees to just 13.5 in the same time period.
The program's declining enrollment and increasing costs forced the district to reevaluate its structure.
In order to fund the program, each school district pays tuition – in 2012 just over $50,000 per year – for each student they enroll in the program. But as costs rise, the districts that have more difficulty paying the tuition have found other ways to educate their deaf and hard of hearing students.
Markwardt said at Monday’s meeting that Beachwood pays its staff high salaries, and speculated that another school district — with lower salaries — would be able to offer a comparable program at a lower cost to home school districts.
Markwardt also said that the district will not aggressively market the program, which has been suggested by parents in the program as a way to bring up enrollment and drive down costs.
Markwardt wrote a letter to the Beachwood Interpreter's Union in August stating that the district intended to change the program after the 2013-2014 school year, sparking dissention from staff, parents and supporters over the past several weeks.
The consortium, whose program is administered by Beachwood City Schools, serves 25 students and is comprised of 29 school districts, including Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Twinsburg, Solon and Mayfield Heights.
Supporters of the program have attended Board of Education meetings to speak about how the program has positively impacted their lives and circulated a petition asking the Board to allow them to participate in a task force to evaluate the program.