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June 17, 2004

Blind, deaf school merger proposed

From: Kansas City Kansan, KS - Jun 17, 2004

Merger could mean blind school would move out of KCK


Kansan news editor

Searching for ways to cut the state budget, a legislative committee may consider merging the State School for the Blind with the State School for the Deaf.

If approved, a merger would almost certainly mean a move out of Kansas City, Kan., for the State School for the Blind after more than 130 years here, according to William Daugherty, superintendent of the school. The State School for the Deaf in Olathe, Kan., has more property.

"The Olathe campus is 16 acres, and we are 10 acres on the side of a hill, so there's no room for expansion at all," Daugherty said.

"We're very proud of our school and our campus here, and its place in our community, and it would certainly not be our first choice to move," Daugherty said.

"I think it would be a tragedy," said Janet Waugh, State Board of Education chairwoman, when asked about a merger. Waugh is from KCK. "I don't think it would work to combine them. To me it would be a personal tragedy to lose the School for the Blind here in Wyandotte County."

She noted it was one of the bright spots for the county.

"We want to save money, but not at the cost of our students," Waugh said.

Waugh said she has heard from the superintendents of both schools that blind and deaf students would be better off separated because they need different types of teaching tools.

The State School for the Blind has been at 1100 State Ave. since 1867, and the oldest building on campus is from the turn of the century, Daugherty said. Most of the campus is very modern, he added.

The idea to study a merger came from the Kansas Legislature, and specifically from the Senate Ways and Means Committee, according to Daugherty. On the committee was Senate President Dave Kerr, a Republican from Hutchinson, Kan. No Wyandotte County senators serve on that committee.

Legislators are looking at the $11 million it costs to operate both campuses.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, which is made up of House and Senate members who meet when the Legislature is not in session, will make a decision next week on whether to conduct an interim study, he said.

"In the interim study, they will look at the feasibility of combining the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf, most likely on the Deaf campus in Olathe," Daugherty said. "And they also will look at what alternative service delivery models there might be, instead of having the two special schools, the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf."

If the LCC decides to make the study, it would probably begin in earnest in August, and a committee of people with interest in the issue would be established, he said. A report would be produced, and it would be reviewed by the Legislature next session, he said.

It's not the first time the issue has been studied, Daugherty noted. It was studied three other times, in 1985, 1986 and 1993.

"The decision made in each of those cases was not to consolidate the school or make some drastic change," he said.

Although legislators discuss saving money by having, for example, one gymnasium or one food-service facility, those in the field say it won't necessarily save money to combine the schools.

"Some of the previous studies have pointed to the problem that it might actually cost more to do that, or that it might take so many years to achieve savings that it would not be worthwhile, but that's what this study will have to address," Daugherty said.

The study also would have to address what would happen to the present campus if a merger takes place, he added.

"I look at it as an opportunity for the Legislature and all of our stakeholders to really understand more about the role the School for the Blind plays statewide," Daugherty said. "We do a tremendous amount of outreach services and move kids in and out of our schools pretty quickly. We think we're working toward a model that is the best fit for Kansas.

"I'm just hoping that as all the information is laid out for the committee and ultimately the Legislature, everything will be fairly evaluated and a good decision will be made," he said. "I can't prejudge what that decision will be."

Currently, the State School for the Blind has about 65 students enrolled on campus, attending summer school. The enrollment usually is between 60 and 70, he said.

Kansas has about 350 children in the state who are designated as visually impaired, and the State School for the Blind usually serves about 100 children in outreach across the state, as well as the 60 to 70 on campus, he said.

In outreach programs, teachers and staff from across the state receive training from the School for the Blind, according to Daugherty. Also, there are early intervention programs and training in technology. The school here supplies all braille books and materials that go out throughout the state.

This year, in a special collaborative program, visually impaired students are being trained in job skills, he said.

Although he said he would wait for the study results, if a study is done, he said that in his opinion, it would almost take two separate campuses on one campus to merge the programs.

"There could be some combining in gymnasiums and the cafeteria and things of that nature, but certainly not in classrooms, and most likely not in the same hallways and buildings," Daugherty said.

"The kids at the School for the Deaf are all very visual in nature, and our kids are typically using canes and moving at a little different pace," he said. "It poses some risks and problems - I don't want to overstate that - but certainly it is a concern."

Many people in the state don't realize the extent of the school's outreach services, he said.

"People look at us and say, 'It's such a small school, do you really need to have a school like that?'" he said. "I feel that we do."

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