School Board backs plan to start alternative school in Port

Pilot program is intended to better educate some special-needs students, control spiralling costs
Ozaukee Press Staff

Faced with an increasing number of special education students and the spiralling cost of educating them, the Port Washington-Saukville School Board last week endorsed a plan to create an alternative school in Port to educate students with severe emotional and behavioral needs.

The board authorized the district to spend as much as $300,000 from its fund balance annually for two years on the pilot alternative school program, although administrators said they expect student state aid will eventually cover a significant portion of the cost. If the program is to continue beyond the two-year trial period, any costs not covered by state aid would have to be incorporated into the district’s budget.

The district plans to lease space in Port Washington for the school, which would be staffed by one teacher and one paraprofessional and provide half-days of classes for about 12 middle and high school students, Director of Special Services Duane Woelfel said. 

The alternative school, which would open in September with the start of the 2018-19 school year, promises to provide the district with a more cost-effective way to serve students with severe emotional and behavioral needs while providing a better education for them, Woelfel said. Some of these students are bused daily to facilities in the Milwaukee suburbs because the district does not have the ability to meet their needs, Woelfel said.

In addition, the alternative program would free resources in the regular school system that are currently dedicated to serving a small number of students with significant needs, he said.

“We’re seeing more and more students with behavioral and mental health needs, and in talking to my colleagues, this is something schools across the state are seeing,” Woelfel said. 

Educating an increasing number of students with special needs comes at a significant cost to the district, he said.

“With no new funding sources and revenue limits, we need to do things a bit more creatively and work to better meet the needs of our students,” Woelfel said.

Last school year, the district spent $258,537 to educate five students at facilities in Waukesha and West Allis because  it did not have the resources to address their special needs. Although the alternative school won’t necessarily eliminate the need to place students outside the district, it promises to provide a better alternative closer to home for many students with emotional and behavioral needs, Woelfel said.

“It’s not unusual for students placed outside the district to spend 90 minutes a day at a minimum on the road,” he said.

The alternative school, which as it is envisioned now would educate two groups of about six students each in half-day sessions, will allow the district to tailor programs to the individual needs of students. Among the focuses of the curriculum could be credit recovery, life skills, embedded social skills such as resilience and goal setting and supportive therapy.

The half-day format would allow time for students to pursue job training, therapy and other programs outside of school, Woelfel said.

One of the advantages of an alternative school in Port Washington is that students in the program would have convenient access to district programs. If, for instance, a student in the alternative school excelled at music, art or tech-ed classes, he could still participate in those classes, Woelfel said.

While the alternative school seems to run contrary to the philosophy of including students with special needs in regular classes, the goal of the program is to give students the specialized attention they need so that they may eventually be able to thrive in a regular school setting, Woelfel said. 

“I think this program would be phenomenal,” School Board member Brenda Fritsch said.    


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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