Steamboat schools abandon plans to sever ties with local agency; takes on control of local special education |

Steamboat schools abandon plans to sever ties with local agency; takes on control of local special education

The Steamboat Springs School District has abandoned an effort to become its own administrative unit in relation to special education at the schools, instead cutting a deal with a local agency that will give the district more autonomy and control over staff.

In May, the district started its second effort to leave the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, which provides special education, professional learning, grant coordination, alternative teacher licensure, induction program and other services to its member school districts. Now, instead of fully separating from the agency, the district is moving in a different direction.

“We tried to become more cooperative and collaborative with BOCES,” said Anne-Marie Williams, director of exceptional student services for the district. Under a proposed new contract, the Steamboat district would “be providing all special education services for students including direct instruction and related services.”

The Steamboat Springs Board of Education on Monday night approved an updated contract with BOCES that will run through the end of the 2022-23 school year. BOCES’ board will review the same contract in September.

Currently, about half of Northwest Colorado BOCES’ employees work in the Steamboat district, according to Executive Director Chris Eberhardt. He said he understood why Steamboat wanted more control over staff but felt the new deal is an alternative that allows control while keeping Steamboat as a voting member of BOCES.

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“It is a highly collaborative endeavor; I think it has some awesome benefits,” Eberhardt said.

The new contract allows Williams, or whoever is in her role, to serve as the BOCES designee in the district and handle the BOCES director’s duties with respect to special education in the district. Per the contract, which would begin in January, the school district would approve all staffing credentials, training and be in control of its own staffing levels.

“Steamboat Springs would also have all the supervision responsibilities,” Williams said, in addition to being the one to evaluate the employees, which includes special education teachers.

The agreement would also require the district to provide additional summer programming, rather than BOCES hiring contractors for the program. Steamboat will now create its own program and work with BOCES for funding.

Steamboat initially sought departure from BOCES because officials believed the district could more effectively and efficiently deliver services to students on its own.

But Eberhardt said the new deal allows Steamboat control without also having to shoulder many of the other tasks that BOCES handles, such as new principal induction programs.

“It can be a win for them, and it can be a win for us,” Eberhardt said. “They can develop some autonomy independently to work with the staff that they hire but still allows them to be part of us.”

Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said he talked over the idea with fellow superintendents in August, and they felt it worked well for Steamboat and BOCES.

“I think there was a recognition of the needs that we have but also, they felt it was in the BOCES interest that we remained connected to the (administrative unit) in some manner,” Meeks said.

While Steamboat would be more autonomous, BOCES is still the administrative unit for the district, which means if the two disagree, BOCES has the final say. Federal and state money to support these programs will flow through BOCES to the district under the agreement.

Currently, special education staff work in the district but are employed by BOCES. In the new set up, Steamboat would employ these people, meaning they likely would need to reapply for their jobs.

Meeks said other superintendents had reservations about the initial idea of Steamboat leaving the regional group.

“They were probably more in favor of this option versus us pursuing the (administrative unit),” Meeks said. “We have a lot of hope for this, that this is a compromise that will meet our needs and the BOCES needs, as well.”

Centered in Steamboat, the Northwest Colorado BOCES also works with school districts in Hayden, South Routt County, Kremmling, Granby, Fraser and Jackson County.

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