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District seeks more control over services

Looking to potentially save money and provide more local control over certain services, the Brookings-Harbor School Board voted Wednesday to withdraw 100 percent of its funding from the South Coast Educational Service District for 2014-2015 school year under the provisions of Senate Bill 529. 

Don Sweeney, the district’s fiscal services director, said the district wants to remove 65 percent of the total $466,314 that is allocated to the ESD for the district, but needed the vote to remove all funding in order to be able to negotiate with the ESD. The district is removing its funding ostensibly to save money providing services it currently contracts for with the ESD.

If the district receives 65 percent of its money, it plans to use it to make its speech program in-house instead of contracting for it with the ESD, a move which Sweeney said could save the district about $46,500.

While the bill is new, the South Coast ESD has already allowed the school district to have money in lieu of contracting for programs and services. For the 2013-2014 school year the Brookings-Harbor School District received $129,387 from the ESD in order to pay for a full time school psychologist and school nurse. The district estimates that it saved $39,465 by hiring for these positions instead of contracting for them through the ESD. Because of the savings, Brookings-Harbor School District has been able to fund for more hours in these positions. 

During the meeting, Baron Guido, director of special education at Brookings-Harbor School District, said taking over control of these programs would make the employees answerable to local officials rather than the ESD. Guido said there had been problems in the past with ESD employees since they report to the ESD and not school district employees. 

Officials requested that the school board have the vote to allow the district to negotiate better deals for the services it contracts for with the ESD. Senate Bill 529, signed into law in March, gives school districts the option to withdraw from  the ESD in order to receive funding allocated to the ESD on behalf of the school district. School districts had until Nov. 1 to give ESD their intention to remove its funding.

Educational Service Districts in Oregon were created in Oregon in 1977 to help smaller school districts pay for the required services, such as special education. The thought was that, by pooling money, ESDs could provide expensive and irregularly needed, but required, services more cost-effectively. While primarily providing for special education services, ESDs in many areas also fund early intervention programs. 

While the district is only looking for 65 percent of the funding, it could potentially remove 100 percent of its funding from the ESD, which could impact the ESD’s ability to provide services at other school districts. Sweeney said Brookings-Harbor pulling 65 percent of its funding should not negatively impact the eight other districts in the ESD and could potentially make things cheaper because Brookings’ remote location made services more expensive, since many contractees have to be paid for travel from Coos Bay or farther away.

Calls and emails to the South Coast ESD were not returned.  

According to The Oregonian, the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts voted to remove 65 percent of their funds from their ESD. If Brookings-Harbor removed its funding, it would be the only one in the South Coast ESD to do so. Other members of the South Coast ESD include Central Curry, Port Orford-Langlois, Reedsport, Coquille, Powers, North Bend, Myrtle Point, Coos Bay and Bandon school districts. 

In other business the school district:

The school board discussed with Superintendent Brian Hodge its intention to provide him with quarterly informal reviews. 

Hodge said in the past he has walked away from evaluations without clarity about what the school board expected from him. He suggested that the board decide what it wanted from him in order to make them more effectual. 

“I want to know what the board wants,” Hodge said. 

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