Durango’s 9-R School District has applied to leave the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services. That would leave Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 as the largest remaining district in BOCES, which provides special education services and other resources for nine Southwest Colorado school districts.
Though 9-R’s departure likely would lead to a smaller BOCES budget, staffing changes and restructuring, Re-1 Board of Education President Dr. Jack Schuenemeyer said Thursday he is confident that Cortez schools wouldn’t be adversely affected.
“The main thing is, we’ll be okay,” said Schuenemeyer, who also is president of the San Juan BOCES board.
District 9-R applied to exit BOCES after an independent audit revealed they have the resources to provide the state-required student services without BOCES, Schuenemeyer said. The application goes to the Colorado Department of Education, which will determine whether or not to authorize it after a 60-day review process that starts in early September, he said.
District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger told The Durango Herald the district wants to be responsible for its own students’ needs.
“We have 25 percent of the special-needs students in the BOCES, but we’re paying 36 percent of the cost,” Snowberger told The Durango Herald. “We need that money in the district because the needs are skyrocketing. We have 4,600 kids and ample staff to deal with these issues. We have to ask, ‘Do we really want to ask some other bureaucracy for permission?’ We need agility to deal with our kids.”
CDE will look at two main points in determining whether or not 9-R can drop out: first, that 9-R has the resources available to provide the services required by law, and second, that there would be no adverse impact to remaining districts, Schuenemeyer said.
San Juan BOCES currently includes Bayfield, Ignacio, Archuleta County, Dolores, Dolores County, Mancos and Silverton school districts, as well as 9-R and Re-1. BOCES employs social workers, psychologists, speech and occupational therapists for schools. The organization not only services students, but also provides professional development resources for teachers, as well as educational initiative materials.
At a BOCES board meeting August 17, members passed a resolution asking CDE to delay a decision on 9-R’s departure until BOCES members can determine how the separation might affect the remaining districts, Schuenemeyer said. District 9-R’s independent audit provided little information on that issue, he said.
BOCES personnel will conduct audits on each of the eight other districts to determine how they might be impacted, Re-1 Superintendent Lori Haukeness said.
BOCES Executive Director Adrea Bogle said even if 9-R drops out, they’ll want to maintain a relationship with the Durango district.
“One of our goals is to remain in a positive, collaborative relationship with all the districts in our region,” she said.
Recruiting and retaining staff is already a struggle for BOCES, but it would be even more difficult without District 9-R, Bogle said. Jobs such as physical therapists and speech pathologists are hard to fill nationwide. BOCES might have trouble finding staff members to fill those types of positions for its small, rural districts, Bogle said.
Another concern is preschool-age kids, Bogle said. Currently, BOCES is responsible for evaluating children from birth to age three for all the preschools in the region. If 9-R exits, the district will take over management of preschools in Durango.
Bogle said BOCES staff still would continue to work with Durango 9-R to make sure everything works smoothly for preschool-age kids, especially as they make the transition to kindergarten.
The annual BOCES budget is about $8 million annually, which includes about $1 million that is distributed as grants, Bogle said. District 9-R, with about 4,600 students, contributes $1.9 million to the BOCES budget, about 36 percent. Re-1 is contributing $202,085 for the current fiscal year, according to Haukeness.
Re-1 is prohibited by state law from dropping out of BOCES because it’s too small a district, Schuenemeyer said.
A departure wouldn’t be practical for Cortez schools, he said.
“We couldn’t afford to hire in certain areas of specialization,” he said. “The advantage of BOCES is they can provide an area of specialization that can serve multiple districts. ... Many of the districts (in BOCES) are relatively small, and in my opinion we’re much stronger together.”
Larger districts, such as 9-R, can hire their own staff members or contract workers for special education services, Schuenemeyer said. Smaller and more rural districts don’t have those resources available, he said. Re-1 has about 2,700 students.
Haukeness said Re-1 is a much stronger district because of San Juan BOCES.
“Working collaboratively with other districts has really strengthened us,” she said.
Though the organization could undergo restructuring if 9-R drops out, Haukeness said Re-1 still will receive the same services from BOCES, and the amount of support BOCES gives the district won’t decrease.
Mancos Re-6 Superintendent Brian Hanson said he didn’t yet know how a 9-R dropout would affect Mancos schools. The superintendents of all nine BOCES districts, including 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger, met August 17 and had a great discussion, he said.
He’s still waiting on more investigation from BOCES and CDE to determine the potential impact, Hanson said.
“Durango needs to do what’s best for them, and I get that,” he said. “We want to see how (the dropout) affects other districts and what we can do to minimize the affect if CDE approves it.”
Hanson estimated that Re-6 contributes around $170,000 to the BOCES budget each year, but most of those are state and federal dollars, he said. BOCES is a good organization with good people working with the kids, and there’s never been any issues in Mancos, he said.
Schuenemeyer also said the services BOCES provides are valuable for the Re-1 District.
“We receive quality services from BOCES staff,” he said. “They’re very capable. There’s no way we could go out on our own and get that quality of services.”
Bogle said BOCES will continue to work with District 9-R to bring those special education resources into the area for families and students.
“Durango is in the middle of our district and we’re the furthest from Denver, so we have a hard time getting resources from CDE into our region,” she said. “We’ll need to maintain a relationship there so our families and students continue to receive those resources. As a region we need to be coherent in getting those resources, because our families really need them.”
The Durango Herald reporter Ann Butler contributed to this story.