The Nokomis-Pana-Taylorville (NPT) Special Education Cooperative was born on July 1, 2019. The three school districts had petitioned the Regional School Board of Bond, Christian, Effingham, Fayette and Montgomery counties in 2017 to allow them to withdraw from the Mid-State Special Education Cooperative and form their own special ed coop and it was granted.
The fledgling organization was just getting its feet underneath itself when the Taylorville School District announced their intention to apply to the same Regional Board for withdraw from the coop. There was some doubt whether NPT would see its third birthday, but following a special meeting of the Regional Board on Wednesday, May 4, you can break out the three candles for its cake as the Board voted 6-1 to deny the school district’s petition.
The petition to the board had been filed by the Taylorville district on May 20, 2021. In their filings, the Taylorville district tried to show how they could serve the needs of their special needs students on their own, without help from the other two districts. They had also sought more control of the current NPT organization and had even hired their own special education coordinator. A crowd of about 35 people attended the special meeting including administrators from all three school districts and attorneys for the Taylorville district who presented their case before the Board, said Julie Wollerman, Regional Superintendent of School for the Regional Office of Education #3. Several NPT employees as well as parents of some of the special education students which the Coop serves also testified during the hearing.
Wollerman said those testifying were “evenly divided” on the topic.
Most of the four-and-a- half hour meeting was taken up by the testimony of those in the audience, with an executive session lasting about 45 minutes after the testimony had been heard by the Board. It was after the executive session the Board voted on the petition. The only member who voted to allow Taylorville’s petition was Christian County representative Don Scott.
“The law firm for Taylorville (Hodges and Loizzi) did a very thorough presentation trying to prove Taylorville could provide for their students,” Wollerman said. “The Board listened to everything, went into closed session and came out and voted no, feeling that the information presented wasn’t enough to allow them to withdraw. They didn’t feel like the Taylorville School District hadn’t done their part to make it work.”
The Executive Committee of the NPT Coop are the superintendents of the three School districts, Dr. Scott Doerr, Nokomis; Jason Bauer, Pana; and Dr. Chris Daugherty, Taylorville. All three testified during the hearing. Douer and Bauer against and Daugherty in favor.
“We were excited (about the decision),” Doerr said. “We know that our coop is a good coop. I think the regional board saw that we can continued to provide the services to our special education students that is needed. We look forward to moving forward and working with the Taylorville School District to make sure their needs are met.”
Doerr said he felt like the majority of the people in attendance were leaning toward the rejection of the proposal. He said several Taylorville parents spoke against the petition.
“I think that was a big impact on the regional board’s decision to reject that petition,” he said.
The decision of the regional board is final and there is no appeal to the decision. However, the Taylorville School District could re-file the petition. The Nokomis superintendent isn’t sure they will do that.
“It’s really hard to say,” said Doerr. “Anytime after June 1, they’ll have to start the whole process over again. So, they’ll have to give us 18 months notice. They’ll have to do all the paperwork over. Taylorville spent a lot of money on legal fees on this process. I think it would be in their best interest to come to the table, sit down, talk to us, tell us what they’re looking for and see if we can’t figure this out between colleagues and make this cooperative work like it was intended to.”
Pana Superintendent Bauer echoed some of Doerr’s sentiments. He was also pleased with the regional board’s decision.
“I was satisfied with the outcome of the vote,” Bauer said. “You know, it’s still fairly early in the coop’s history to be really making any types of decisions to allow anyone to pull out at this particular point in time.”
Bauer said he used his testimony to point out there has been times Taylorville hasn’t followed the original NPT agreement.
“That was done very early on – seven months into it – when they (Taylorville) tired to hire their own director of special education,” he said. “That joint agreement reads there’s one director and that’s Kelly Suey.”
Bauer thought what Taylorville’s understanding of the agreement wasn’t very good, referring to the change in superintendents when Dr. Greg Fuerstenau left the district and Dr. Daugherty took the position.
“Dr. Daugherty inherited the agreement and I think now, as we move forward, just need to do our due diligence and make sure the agreements are followed and do everything necessary moving forward to make things work for all parties involved.”
Dr. Daugherty did not respond to a request to contact the Breeze-Courier for her perceptive. A message was left with NPT Director Kelly Suey for comment and the newspaper did not hear back from her, either.