Area school districts join forces with Hillcrest

Maquoketa, Bellevue, Andrew and Easton Valley will work with the provider in a restructuring of their special-ed programs.

From TH Online June 27, 2015

Eight eastern Iowa school districts have banded together to purchase special-education services from a Dubuque provider.

The newly formed consortium, which includes the Maquoketa, Bellevue, Andrew and Easton Valley districts, will work with Dubuque-based Hillcrest Family Services to offer an alternate classroom setting for students with behavioral issues.

The arrangement essentially will continue a service offered to the districts for 15 years. However, new restrictions on special-education spending prompted the formation of the consortium and a restructuring of the program’s administration.

Two years ago, Iowa Department of Education officials released a memo clarifying which services can be paid for with special-education funding.

“What we were finding is that a lot of the expenditures we were saying were special education through Hillcrest and the services they provide, the Department of Education was saying, ‘No, there were a lot of expenditures (that) should not be billed or attributed to special education,'” said Chris Hoover, superintendent of Maquoketa Community Schools.

Leaders in each of the districts could have continued to purchase the Hillcrest services using money from general funds, but that’s not ideal, Hoover said.

Districts cannot spend past their authority for general fund expenses — the majority of which are salaries and benefits for employees — but can ask a school budget review committee for increased special-education funding authority based on need.

The districts were given a grace period of one year to come into compliance with the updated expectations. Hoover said the formation of the consortium, which will have control over the program’s academic standards, should allow for more use of special education funding.

“The school districts are going to be more actively involved in making sure the kids are getting the things we expect them to get,” Hoover said.

Hillcrest will be paid $700,500 for its services. Each district will split the costs of leasing a Maquoketa campus for the Hillcrest program and will pay additional fees based on the number of students each has participating.

Gary Gansemer, president and CEO of Hillcrest, said the organization considers the program to be another branch of the Anna B. Lawther Academy. The Dubuque-based facility provides an alternate educational setting for Dubuque students.

“We are very pleased that we were able to work out this consortium and continue this program that’s been successful for the last 15 years,” Gansemer said.