WRHS alternative ed program could start in January

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BEACON FALLS — School officials in Region 16 are moving towards implementing an alternative education program at Woodland Regional High School for the spring semester. However, financial constraints may derail that plan.

The school has no alternative education program for students who are struggling in the traditional high school setting and no neighboring school districts are accepting out-of-district students into their programs. Such students, for which all other interventions have been exhausted, are tutored at home with the district covering the expense. Currently, there are eight homebound high school students being tutored.

Last month, Woodland Principal Arnold Frank and Assistant Principal Dana Mulligan presented the Region 16 Board of Education with a plan for an afterschool alternative education program that was warmly received by the board. The program will run for a couple of hours after school at Woodland, during which students would receive counseling as well as instruction. Under the program, the students would also be placed in a job or internship during the day before going to class.

The intention was to have the full program up and running for the start of 2013-14 school year. However, last week, Mulligan presented the board with an abridged version of the program — just the after school class without the work portion of the program — to be implemented in January.

“This is a start,” board member Robert Hiscox said.

School officials have long wanted an alternative program in the district, with an ultimate goal of converting the annex at Algonquin School in Prospect into the site of the program after the new elementary school in Prospect opens.

School board Chair Priscilla Cretella described the proposal before the board as a bridge to the larger program and the entire board is supportive of the effort. But, whether the program moves ahead this school year hinges on finding the money to fund it.

According to Mulligan’s estimates running the program would cost from $41,535 to $70,300 depending on what option the board were to choose for transporting the students.

The three transportation options before the board are: one van for Beacon Falls and Prospect that would pick up and drop off students at their homes for $36,259; one van to pick up all students at a central location in each town for $18,129; or students would ride one of the buses that picks up the regular high school students at Woodland at the normal dismissal time for $7,488 or $14,976 depending on whether the students were dropped off at their homes.

Board members raised concerns with the third option, saying they did not want the students interacting with the regular education students at the school for fear they might fall into the same troubles that got them into the program.

Hiscox, who taught at Newington High School, said Newington High had a similar program that was very successful. But, he added, the school had an issue with the students getting to school before regular education students got out.

Cretella also questioned whether the board could require the students to find their own ride to the program.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said since the program will be their education program and regular education students are provided transportation, the board could be brought the court if it didn’t provide transportation for the alternative education program.

The board discussed ways to lessen the program’s cost, including reducing the projected stipend of $7,000 for the administrator to run the program. The budget also includes roughly $25,000 to pay for the homebound tutoring. The money not spent by January would be used to offset the program’s cost.

Finding money for the program, however, was the least of the board’s financial concerns.

The budget currently has an estimated $200,000 deficit due to six new special education students moving into the district after the budget was passed. These students must be outplaced to specific schools that provide specialized programs not offered by the district. The district has to cover the costs for these students, which is a cost the board could not have anticipated.

The board made no final decision on whether to move forward with the alternative education program in January as it awaits more information on the budget situation.