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Green Bay likely to close special education open enrollment

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Sarah Pamperin, a sixth-grade bilingual teacher at Edison Middle School, has been in front of the school board numerous times advocating for her students.

However, Pamperin’s testimony Jan. 6 regarding special education open enrollment was personal.

“I am unfortunately not a resident of Green Bay,” she said. “When we moved from the Green Bay school district I thought that would be OK, because I’d be able to open enroll my children.”

But last February when her son, Benjamin, was given an IEP for speech and language, Pamperin said he was denied open enrollment into Green Bay schools.

Each year, school boards are required to determine the number of regular education and special education spaces available within their districts by Jan. 31.

Consistent with the previous three years, district administration brought forward a recommendation to the board Jan. 6 to accept all open enrollment applications for regular education.

Special education spots are a different story.

The state allows districts to separately set spaces for special education programs, even if regular education open enrollment isn’t capped.

Availability is calculated with a state-required formula using recommended case load size for each program, current staffing and projected enrollment.

“If you spend a million dollars this year, you have to spend a million dollars next year, out of your local funds – the maintenance of effort,” said Melissa Thiel Collar, legal counsel. “You can’t change what you are locally spending from year to year, whether the money is there or not.”

Administration recommended the board set limits for special education open enrollment using the state-required formula, also consistent with previous years.

Based on the formula, special education slots for the 2020-21 school year are already at, or nearly at capacity.

Board President Brenda Warren said she understands its unfair, but under the maintenance of effort requirement it’s risky to open the special education open enrollment.

“To put this to an example, if we decide to open up speech and language to everyone who wants to open-enroll, and say it costs us $150,000 more,” she said. “So we spend that $150,000 this year, and then the students decide to go back to their district and they don’t need our services anymore. We still have to spend that $150,000, whether the students are here or not the following year. Somehow we have to spend that $150,000 for eternity even though the students aren’t there anymore. To me, that is the risk of opening the flood gates.”

Board Vice President Andrew Becker said he is opposed to capping special education open enrollment.

“For me, this is about doing the right thing, even if there is cost,” he said. “We are not talking about thousands of students open-enrolling in. I feel very strongly that the right thing to do is let kids in. I wish all school boards did the same thing, in essence taking the pressure off each other, but they don’t.”

Since being denied last year, Pamperin said Benjamin was diagnosed with autism.

“It feels a little like a shot in the heart that he’s not able to attend Green Bay schools, because I put my heart and soul into my work here,” she said. “Obviously, with all the love I have for the bilingual, I would love for my kids to be part of the bilingual program. It has been really hard for me to stomach the fact that if we want to attend Green Bay schools, we have to move.”

Board members are set to vote on the administration’s recommendations at their regular board meeting on Monday, Jan. 20.

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