Spring Cove to hire for Life Skills program

ROARING SPRING – Spring Cove School District will hire away at least three staffers from a regional special-education program next week to begin a local replacement, the school board agreed Monday.

The hirings, set for approval at a voting meeting next Monday, would be the first for Spring Cove’s proposed Life Skills program. Currently run by Intermediate Unit 8, a regional education authority, Life Skills teaches children with learning disabilities to better participate in work and their communities.

But at Monday’s meeting, two parents of a Life Skills student – one of them a district counselor – questioned administrators on their public silence until the program takeover was nearly underway. While a related program for an expanded kindergarten has prompted parent polls and requests for public participation, they said, Life Skills parents received little information and had no say in the change.

“Why wait until the eleventh hour to bring this to a vote?” asked Stephanie Thompson, a school counselor, of the March 18 vote to secede from the IU-8 program.

Thompson criticized Superintendent Robert Vadella for focusing on hoped-for monetary savings, rather than benefits to Life Skills students, in his proposal.

“I have to tell you how disheartening it was to see slide after slide of financial figures,” she said.

In a March presentation, Vadella said the change could save as much as $150,000, particularly if neighboring districts join Spring Cove and agree to send their Life Skills students to the newly independent classes.

Thompson’s husband, Jeff Thompson, cited a school board policy that encourages “community engagement” and collaboration, something he said Life Skills parents weren’t offered.

Vadella said three Life Skills educators have agreed to transfer to the district program, with more possibly to come. The district is awaiting answers from some neighboring schools on whether they’ll join with Spring Cove, he said.

“We didn’t take this lightly,” he said in an address at Monday’s meeting. “If we save those local dollars here, it’s possible we could spend them on another local program.”

Vadella acknowledged that administrators released little information in the year they were planning the Life Skills takeover. They spent much of that time discussing the plan with neighboring districts’ leaders, assessing their interest in joining the project.

Vadella contrasted Spring Cove’s deliberate, behind-the-scenes work with that of the Hollidaysburg Area School District, where officials announced a Life Skills takeover in 2012.

“They [Hollidaysburg] walked into a room with representatives of other districts, and they said: ‘We’re taking over our program. You’re out,'” Vadella said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.