Spring Cove leaving Life Skills

ROARING SPRING – The Spring Cove school board voted Monday to take the first steps in a possible multidistrict withdrawal from a regional special-education program, with the expected savings to be pumped into a planned kindergarten system for 4-year-olds.

With a vote that Superintendent Robert Vadella said couldn’t be delayed, the board agreed by a 6-2 margin to begin a likely withdrawal from Intermediate Unit 8’s Life Skills program, which teaches developmentally disabled and special-needs students at all grade levels to better participate in their schools and communities. The intermediate unit, a regional education authority, operates several districts’ Life Skills programs at Spring Cove – apparently at a higher cost than some administrators think is necessary.

By seceding and working to take four local districts with them, Spring Cove administrators could save more than $150,000 per year, Vadella said in a presentation. The district will notify the intermediate unit today of the plan to take over Life Skills classes at all grade levels, he said.

In a separate presentation, Vadella said the money saved could be used to offset expenses for another far-reaching change: a proposed 4-year-old kindergarten system that would introduce students to school at a younger age than some districts.

The board didn’t vote Monday on the so-called “Kindergarten-4” program, which Vadella stressed is distinct from Pre-K classes at other schools. The grade would involve reading sessions, nap times and social interaction and would remain voluntary, but once enrolled, students would be subject to attendance laws.

Dozens of parents expressed interest in an early poll, Vadella said. It could free time for working parents in a more educational environment than at some preschools, he said, and all students would be admitted, regardless of age.

The Kindergarten-4 program’s cost would be offset by government allocations and Life Skills savings, with the district’s budget reserve available for additional expenses.

While the dual plans – saving money by seceding from the intermediate unit’s Life Skills classes and establishing early kindergarten – seemed foolproof in Vadella’s presentations, board members expressed concerns that the changes were introduced too suddenly.

The Life Skills withdrawal had to be approved Monday, Vadella said, because any delay would put the district past a March 28 deadline to leave. He said administrators had discussed the plan for a year, though it was never mentioned publicly until last week.

The district could push for Claysburg-Kimmel, Williamsburg, Northern Bedford and Tussey Mountain to continue sending their Life Skills students to the campus under the newly independent program. The more schools that join, the more money Spring Cove could make, Vadella said.

But students in the Life Skills program might not welcome the sudden change, which could include new teachers, board members Mary Smith and James Smith argued.

“They are very sensitive and they’re unique. It’s not like a regular classroom where you just plug 20 people in,” Mary Smith said. “They don’t handle change well.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.