County school grows in village
- Published: July 19, 2012
For the past 25 years, Greene County’s special education provider has sat quietly at the western edge of the village, growing. During that period Greene County Educational Services Center, or Greene ESC, has gone from 50 employees and about 40 students to 164 employees and about 120 students. So when Greene ESC Superintendent Terry Thomas retires next month, he will be looking back on a 26-year career of increased services for students across the region who have been identified for extra learning support.
Over the past 25 years the special education needs in the county have increased nearly three-fold, which is similar to statistics across the nation, according to Thomas. Not only are more children being identified with both emotional, behavioral and physical health issues, but parents are also demanding more special education services for their children. The stigma that special education once had is fading, and instead of denying it or going underground, parents have become outspoken advocates for their children with disabilities. The increased demand has been met with increased federal education standards and mandates for higher levels of service, which has greatly increased the cost of education, Thomas said.
Greene ESC operates on an annual budget of $13 million as a special education provider that offers psychologists and various speech and occupational therapists, most of whom work in the public schools they serve. The main facility in Yellow Springs houses the administrative staff and the Learning Center, a school with about 80 students who are considered emotionally disabled and cannot function in the regular classroom. The ESC also manages an intensive needs classroom in Bellbrook with about 40 students, many of whom are autistic or otherwise handicapped. Greene ESC is also the only public school ESC in the state that is a certified mental health agency, led by Yellow Springs resident psychologist Tim Callahan.
The ESC has worked hard to become a place where students go to get better, Thomas said. The mental health element of all the center’s services is robust, and Thomas believes it’s the reason many of his students are able to make improvement, participate in community service, graduate high school, perhaps go on to Sinclair and Clark State and find jobs. He recalled a Greeneview student who was so disabled he had to be sent to a residential mental health center. But when he returned to the Learning Center, specialists worked with him until he was able to graduate.
Not surprisingly, the additional services cost additional money. Clark County ESC, which serves about the same number of districts as Greene, operates on half the budget, with $7 million.
“One of the issues is the level of service kids are getting, which are dropping off because of budget cuts,” Thomas said. “You can just house kids, but the question is how much are you helping them?”
The cost of Greene ESC has affected the local school district. While Yellow Springs used to receive nearly all of its special services through the local center, budget cuts have forced the district to look for less costly providers. This year Yellow Springs contracted with Invo, Inc. for speech therapy and psychologists and Clark County for physical and occupational therapies, using Greene for its preschool, adapted P.E. and Learning Center, which four local students attend, according to Yellow Springs Treasurer Dawn Weller.
The two districts share a lunch program through provider Sodexo. Because nearly all of the ESC students qualify for subsidized lunches, the ESC raises the overall meal subsidies the Yellow Springs district receives, thereby lowering the total cost of the lunch program. The ESC also pays a small daily fee to have lunch delivered to its building from the kitchen at the high school. In addition to the lunch program, Yellow Springs district still receives about $2,400 per year in rent for a small piece of property the ESC is using for a modular classroom. Yellow Springs schools also use the ESC gym for some of its sports team practices during the winter, and the two schools share the use of the parking lot.
The ESC is also connected to the local community as the fourth largest income tax contributor to the Village. Last year the center paid $51,514 in Village income tax, behind YSI, Antioch University and the local school district.
The center moved to Yellow Springs around 1980 and operated out of the Bryan Center building before leasing the current facility (formerly the local district’s Morgan Middle School) from the Yellow Springs school district in 1989. According to ESC Treasurer Robert Arledge, the outfit began a 10-year lease to purchase the building and east lawn for $500,000 in 2002, with $200,000 going toward repairs. The center just completed the final payment in May.
The ESC came to Yellow Springs because an affordable building was available, Thomas said, and now that it owns the building, the ESC hopes to stay. To save money, when Thomas retires, the plan is to merge the superintendents for the Greene County and Darke County ESCs into one position, which will be held by current Darke County Superintendent Mike Grey. Terry Strieter, the former special education director for Yellow Springs who currently supervises the Greene ESC intensive needs program, will oversee the day-to-day operations of the building, Thomas said.
Thomas inherited his interest in teaching from his father, who was superintendent of Greeneview schools. Thomas came to education through coaching football and baseball in Kettering, where he lives. He taught math for Kettering City Schools in the 1980s before joining Greene ESC in curriculum development. He became superintendent in 2002.
Thomas favors small to medium-sized school districts, like Yellow Springs, where he feels students get the most opportunities and find the most success. He finds that of all the districts in the county, Yellow Springs “offers the most individualized program” and encourages students to pursue their own interests. Yellow Springs students therefore do express their individuality, which is part of the village’s culture, Thomas said.
“You keep that individuality as a strong feature by supporting a small school district.”