Parents' protest keeps Effective School Solutions program in place

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The parents of the Effective School Solutions program took over the Board of Education meeting last Thursday to protest changes to how it is run.

This program, which works with 15 at-risk students, is run by an outside contractor, Effective School Solutions, Inc. They bring in a licensed social worker and a school psychologist to work intensely with children who don't fit other criteria, such as special educational programs, but are troubled and aren't functioning in the school system.

After a lengthy discussion, the school board decided to keep Effective School Solutions.

The board was discussing keeping the program structure, but replacing the outside staff with district employees, a move that upsets parents of students in the program.

Lori McNeil, whose child is in the program, said the two staff members know what they are doing. McNeil knows that when her son gets on the bus, he's safe at school, which is a relief to her. Other parents said the same thing, that their children had connected to the staff because of the intense interaction and possibly because these staff members were outside contractors and not part of the school system.

“It's not the program,” board member Doug Castellana said. “It's the people running the program. They are the ones that who have connected with the kids.”

Acting Superintendent Charles Maranzano suggested the change not because of the staff, but because of the outside vendor. The district pays $250,000 per year for the services of those two staff members. He estimates they are pocketing at least $100,000 of that total, leading him to suggest the district could hire two equally qualified employees to run the program, saving the district $100,000 instead.

Board member Robert Hughes pointed out that even if the district uses in-house staff to run the program, the district would still have to hire staff members to replace the ones who had been transferred into the program, which would be a significant cost to the district still.

He also said the company doesn't guarantee that it will bring the same staff back next year, but Principal Tim Dunnigan said that in consultation with the staff members, they believe will be back.

Dunnigan, who admits that he wasn't a fan of the program when it started, is now an ardent believer in it.

“All the students are making progress. Of all 15 students, discipline issues have gone down and GPAs have gone up,” he said. “I have not heard one negative thing about this program.”

He believes the program is keeping these children in the district, instead of needing to send them to out of district places, which is extremely expensive — more so than the cost of keeping ESS in place, he said.

McNeil agreed, saying that cost of educating these students out-of-house is prohibitive. “The cost of the program is nominal compared to the impact it has on these students,” she said.

The pleas of the staff and parents had the desired effect on the board, with board member Ed DeYoung saying that there were “intangibles that we weren't aware of.” Another board member Bill Higgins, said that there were lots of clever and creative cuts in the budget, but that there were more that could find another $150,000 or $200,000. The rest of the board agreed to keep the ESS cuts out of the budget and discussed negotiating the contract with the vendor to get a lower price and assure that they kept the same staff.

“I think that no matter who they are, they still will make more of a difference than an in-house person,” board member Cynthia Auberger said. “After all, if they could have spoken to a staff person, they would have by now.”

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