The number of students requiring Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) services in Independent School District (ISD) 318 continue to rise, according to a report provided by Brent Brunetta, Special Education Director, on Monday.

According to Brunetta, who presented to the school board on Monday, Sept. 17, numbers continue to increase across the district for students requesting ECSE services, with referrals coming to the department year-round.

In 2017, said Brunetta, the department received 11 referrals for services the entire summer.

“During the summer of 2018, we received 21 referrals,” said Brunetta, who noted the majority of those students have qualified for special services.

With the department taking referrals year-round, and with the number of referrals increasing, there are a number of challenges which arise, said Brunetta.

“It’s hard for organizations to plan accordingly,” he said, especially when it comes to setting budgets for the next school year. “We understand that the district needs to put pieces in place [for the upcoming school year budget,] but with ECSE, there are a lot of unknowns.”

With the numbers of students requiring services having increased, “our caseloads are maxed out, and in some cases, over the maximum,” said Brunetta, who added that space constraints at the district’s elementary facilities have also complicated matters.

“In our school district, in our community, because of space constraints, we haven’t been able to maximize the potential of the Invest Early and Head Start programs,” said Brunetta, who added that these are often programs that district students are typically enrolled in.

Students enrolled in 318 requesting ECSE services immediately begin receiving them at the elementary level. But with the occasional waiting list emerging as a result of limited space in Invest Early and Head Start programs, and with the district-wide primary objective of meeting the needs of all the district’s learners, the school board made a motion on Monday to approve a contract with Our Redeemer Little Lambs Preschool for ECSE activities for 2018-19.

“This contract will address that need that we have with limited space for our Invest Early and Head Start students,” said Brunetta. “This contract will provide services for our students who are two, turning three-years-old, who require services.”

According to the contract, the district will be responsible for providing a licensed ECSE teacher to provide the services to students, as defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Services will be provided at Our Redeemer Little Lambs Preschool in the general education classroom or other location as determined to be the least restrictive environment within the Little Lambs setting.

Starting September 2018, the contractor will provide early childhood special education/school readiness services for two students.

The agreement will be in force until May 30, 2019.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the Bigfork High School Spanish field trip to Costa Rica for June 2020.

• Approved the minutes of the Sept. 4 school board meeting and August 2018 claims.

• Heard a facilities design and construction update provided by Kent Koerbitz. According to Koerbitz, all purchase agreements with private landowners has been completed, and sites are being prepared for demolition to take place in the coming months. On the east site in Grand Rapids, plans to deal with traffic flow issues have been received and are currently under review. On the west site, the City of Grand Rapids is working with a gas company to relocate a line which was found to traverse the property. Work continues for the planning, design and construction of the spaces in Cohasset, and soil boring locations have been identified for both Grand Rapids sites. The tests will take place sometime this fall.

• Approved the following staff changes: Jerry Casey, girls and boys swim coach retirement after 25 years of service; Stephen Charnley, bus driver retirement after seven years of service; Alison Dingmann, debate coach resignation; Jessica Dixon, educational support professional (ESP) replacement hire; Jonathon Dunnick, debate coach replacement hire; Mandy Giffen, seventh grade girls basketball coach resignation; Chris Johnson, girls JV hockey coach resignation; Roger Mischke, boys hockey coach resignation; Nichele Powell, ESP hire; and Nicole Ritter, food and nutrition replacement hire.

• Approved the preliminary 2018 payable 2019 levy limitation by certifying the maximum levy allowable. ISD 318 Business Manager Pat Goggin provided the board with an update on the annual levy process, reminding the board that the numbers provided on Monday are still preliminary. “By approving the maximum levy, it gives us all the flexibility, because the numbers keep changing,” said Goggin, who noted that the district and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will continue to “work on the numbers.” A truth in taxation public meeting will be held on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. At this meeting, public testimony will be allowed, and the final level and current year budget will be discussed. On Dec. 17 the board will take a vote to accept the final levy.

• Heard an update on the Itasca County purchase of service agreement for transportation of foster care youth. According to the agreement, youth placed in a foster care placement will remain enrolled in their school of origin, unless a determination is made that it is not in their best interest. This is the first year of the agreement with all school districts in Itasca County.

The next school board open forum will take place on Monday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Admin. Board Room and via telepresence at the Bigfork School. The next school board regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

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