Tuesday, September 29, 2009

State commission recommends schools for deaf, blind remain open

Source Link - State commission recommends schools for deaf, blind remain open

The state’s Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission on Monday voted to keep open both the Kansas School for the Deaf and Kansas School for the Blind.

The commission voted to recommend to Gov. Mark Parkinson that the schools maintain separate operations, but work together to find cost-cutting measures within the two operations.

“I can sure hear the sighs already,” said KSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Maile. “I know this caused some anxiety in the community.”

Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius created the commission to examine the possible closure or merger of several facilities around the state because of the weak economy.

“We were charged to look at whether there were savings there,” Rochelle Chronister, chairwoman of the commission, said about the possible closure or realignment of the schools. “If you don’t have the savings, then it doesn’t make sense.”

The 11-member committee did recommend that the schools look at combining some administrative duties and other cost-saving measures.

The commission is expected to issue a report on the schools and give its recommendation by Dec. 1 to Gov. Mark Parkinson. The commission also will make recommendations on other state facilities.

Commission members had discussed and studied the issue for months and heard testimony from opponents of the possible school closures or realignments.

The three options the commission studied included building two new schools on one campus; moving the School for the Blind onto the School for the Deaf’s larger campus in Olathe; and reducing costs and continuing the schools’ current operations.

Maile said he was not surprised by the decision given the information commission members received about the costs associated with building new schools or realigning the schools onto the same campus.

Maile said “we had a group of architects put a study together a few weeks ago and they came with a cost of about $25 to $26 million” to establish a new campus with two new school buildings.

It was almost as expensive to move the Kansas School for the Blind, which has a smaller campus, onto the current KSD campus in Olathe.

“When they were presented with that information and looked at the financial outlay over several years, the savings didn’t come any where near what it would cost to fix the current buildings and keep both operating the same,” Maile said.

Kansas has 650 children certified as deaf or hard of hearing. The School for the Deaf has 136 students in Olathe and serves 385 students statewide through various outreach programs. The school, which operates on a budget of $9.698 million for fiscal year 2010, has 17 acres, 12 for educational purposes and five acres for athletics. About 22,000 square feet is unused and available. There also are a couple of smaller buildings, built in the 1920s, that could be razed.

Kansas has 1,000 children who are vision impaired. Of those, 665 are legally blind and the remaining children have various degrees of visual impairment. The School for the Blind serves 70 students during the regular term and 50 students during its summer session on a budget of $6.52 million for fiscal year 2010.

The school is on 9.56 acres in Kansas City, Kan. The school has no available space. There is a three-story cottage that the school only uses the first floor, but the second and third stories are structurally unsound.

In 20 years with KSD, Maile said this is the fourth study the state as conducted on the possible closure or realignment of the schools. The Kansas Legislature ordered the previous three studies. This one, however, was some what different, he said.

For one, the governor formed the current commission during some difficult economic times. The commission also took a more in-depth look at the schools’ operations, finances and properties than had been done in previous studies.

“The results they’re coming out with are just same, though,” he said.

Maile said the two schools will get together in the coming months to discuss possible cost-saving ideas.

Some of those discussion items include having one superintendent for both schools, sharing administrative resources such as business and financial management, and other ideas that could save the schools money by combining resources.