The North Adams Community Schools corporation is poised to take over as the lead legal authority of the Adams-Wells special needs cooperative, pending a meeting scheduled for Monday between the superintendents of the six school districts in the two counties.
The cooperative serves some 1,500 special needs students in the two-county area, providing services ranging from classroom instruction for emotionally and mentally handicapped students to occupational and physical therapy services.
Michele Neumann, special education co-op director, spoke to the North Adams school board on Tuesday. She said changes in the cooperative have been in the making for several months and that the "time has come" to restructure the agency.
Among the proposed changes, Neumann said, is a plan whereby teachers and non-classified personnel that are currently employed independently by the cooperative through an interlocal agreement between the six school districts would become employees of their respective school districts. A new state law mandating that teacher evaluations and state reporting be done by home districts drove that reasoning, Neumann said.
The co-op employees currently work under a collective bargaining agreement that is separate from other school employees, and Neumann said discussions must still be resolved surrounding retirement buyouts and other benefits. Co-op employees would retain their seniority status and accumulated sick-days if they become employees of their home school districts under the proposal.
"The important thing to keep in mind is that the services for kids will not change," Neumann said. "The only difference is where the teachers' paychecks come from."
Also under the proposal, North Adams Community Schools would become the Lead Education Authority — or LEA — for the six-district administration of special needs services, and the North Adams school board would act as the sole legal authority for the cooperative.
North Adams Superintendent Dr. Wylie Sirk said the transition would pose no financial burden for the local school district as federal and state funding already in place would follow the employees to their respective districts. The North Adams board, Sirk said, would simply be legally responsible for all personnel decisions and budgetary planning for the cooperative.
Superintendents from North Adams, Adams Central, South Adams, Northern Wells, Southern Wells and Bluffton school districts, who have served as the governing body of the cooperative, are scheduled to meet Monday and could finalize the restructuring of the agency.