Basehor-Linwood special education teachers embrace new agreement
When Heidi Hill was approached by the Basehor-Linwood school district with a new teaching contract, removing her from the Leavenworth County Special Education Cooperative that she had been working under for nine years, she was neither shocked nor upset. Instead, she was elated.
"The district really worked hard to make this right for teachers and kids," Hill said.
On April 8, the Kansas State Board of Education approved the dissolution of the Leavenworth County Special Education Cooperative that employed the county's special education teachers and dispersed them throughout the county. Hill spent the past nine years in the Basehor-Linwood district, first at Linwood Elementary School then Glenwood Ridge Elementary, but was being paid and managed by the Leavenworth cooperative. Special education teachers in USD 458 would have to report absences and manage emails with the Leavenworth school district, which also paid their salaries.
"When it was formed, all of the districts were so small," Hill said of the 23-year-old organization. "But when all of us started growing exponentially, there was a disconnect between teachers and the cooperative. That's nobody's fault, it's just the nature of growth."
In October 2013, the six superintendents of Leavenworth County (Leavenworth, Fort Leavenworth, Easton, Lansing, Basehor-Linwood and Tonganoxie) began discussions to dissolve the cooperative.
Basehor-Linwood Superintendent David Howard and the USD4 58 school board then approved a proposal to leave the cooperative and form a two-district cooperative with Tonganoxie. On May 5, Tonganoxie will be hosting a joint planning meeting with the Basehor-Linwood Board of Education for the new special education agreement. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Tonganoxie High School West library.
"Our services, we believe, will be better than they were in the past," Howard said at the April school board meeting. "This gives us autonomy and the ability to make decisions locally."
Basehor-Linwood retain its more than 40 current teachers and para-educators, and they will officially become Basehor-Linwood employees beginning next August. The district will share staff for gifted services, vision impaired/deaf hard of hearing and school psychologists with Tonganoxie.
Howard said employing the district's own special education teachers allows the district to manage its own expenses. Last year, Howard said, the district's contribution to the cooperative was $1.4 million in flow-through state aid and another $736,000 from the district's general fund. The projected increase for Basehor-Linwood's contribution next year, if the district stayed in the cooperative, was 20 percent.
Shari Kuttler, a math and reading special education teacher at Basehor Intermediate School, said the new agreement removes any question about the teachers' roles in the class rooms. Kuttler said the special education teachers in the district consider themselves simply as teachers rather than special education teachers.
"The kids, special ed or not, don't view us as special ed teachers," Kuttler said.
"We're fighting to get rid of that stigma," said Basehor-Linwood Middle School teacher Brock Peterson.
At BIS, Kuttler said, there are 30 students who are taught through the special education resource room and eight children in special programs. At Glenwood Ridge, about 26 students receive instruction through the resource room. The Gifted Program is also held at Glenwood Ridge, where special need children receive specialized instruction one day per week.
Hill said the biggest support special education teachers in the district provide the students is a constant source of mentorship as they grow from kindergarten age to middle schoolers. Hill works with students from kindergarten to third grade.
"Over four years of time, you really get attached to these kids," Hill said. "I love what I do. I'm so happy to be a part of the Basehor-Linwood family officially."