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District 101 brings special education services in-house

MORRIS – The special education population at Morris Community High School is shrinking.

During the past four years, District 101 experienced about a 39 percent decline in special education enrollment, said Pat Halloran, District 101 superintendent.

As a result, staffing changes are being made to save the district money and account for the decreasing population of learning-disabled students.

Among those changes is the addition of a dean of special populations and a special education social worker starting next school year.

District 101 currently outsources those positions to the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative, paying the co-op for those employees. By moving the positions in-house, it eliminates the need to pay the cooperative. Halloran said the district will be saving about $30,000.

The cooperative provides special education employees and services for all school districts in Grundy County, but Halloran said it makes sense fiscally for District 101 to absorb those positions.

“We used to use teachers who were actually employees of the co-op but were placed in our building,” Halloran said. “It made sense to bring those in-house.”

Shelia Neuhalfen was one such MCHS worker supplied by the co-op. She will now work full time at the high school as the new special education social worker.

“She will have more time to work with the students and work with more groups,” Halloran said.

Neuhalfen has worked for the co-op for 16 years, but was assigned to MCHS for the past 14 years. She said she spends the majority of her current work day at MCHS anyway, so the new position will not be much of an adjustment for her.

“I do look forward to being in one building full time,” Neuhalfen said. “But I will miss the people I work with at the co-op. They have been really good to me.”

Lori Dite, currently the head of the special education department at MCHS, will absorb new administrative duties to become the school’s dean of special populations. Dite will split her school day between teaching in the classroom and coordinating various student services.

“Supervisors from the co-op have been very supportive,” Dite said. “They have worked with me to make sure I have the tools that I need.”

Dite has worked at MCHS for 10 years, and said she already had performed some of the administrative duties as the department chair.

“It’s a lot of paperwork and making sure everything is legal,” Dite said. “I’ve been doing a lot of that anyway over the years, but now I will have a little more time set aside just to do that, which will be nice.”

Earlier this week, the District 101 Board of Education approved a resolution to let go of Sarah Pichon, full-time special education teacher at MCHS for the past three years, and Patti Tesdal, full-time art teacher at Morris Community High School for the past 21 years.

The two staff reductions and the incorporation of the co-op positions will save the district about $167,0000, Halloran said.

“We currently have seven special education teachers and starting next year, we will have six,” Halloran said. “But that’s deceiving because in reality, part of Lori Dite’s day will be spent teaching classes.”

MCHS also is meeting the state-mandated class size limitations, which stipulate the number of special education teachers a district must employ based on the size of its learning disabled population.

“Based on current projections [for next school year] we should meet those standards,” Halloran said.

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