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June 4, 2004

Schools for blind, deaf to be assessed

From: Lawrence Journal World, KS - Jun 4, 2004

By Lindsay Hanson, Lawrence Journal-World

Friday, June 4, 2004

A bill before a combined state House and Senate committee would study whether the Kansas State School for the Blind and the Kansas State School for the Deaf are needed.

The schools, governed directly by the Kansas State Board of Education, cost the state $11 million combined to house and educate their students, said William Daugherty, superintendent of the School for the Blind.

But to merge the schools would cost more than it would save, he said. If the schools were to close completely, the state would have to provide regional schools.

State Sen. Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, said the study would be a major topic during the interim session, though he doubted any drastic steps would be taken. Morris is chairman of both the Legislative Budget Committee and the State Billing Committee. Either committee could be assigned the bill by the Legislative Coordinating Council, but the bill probably won't be considered until August, he said.

Closing the school just isn't an option, Daugherty said.

"It would be unbelievable," he said. "You need to have kids moving back and forth between them as their needs change."

Opposed to change

Sara Squires, mother of a 14-year-old student at the School for the Blind, saw the legislation on the agenda for the Senate Ways and Means Committee in May. She said senators might be more willing to cut vital programs when the state budget is as tight as it is this year.

"I just think everything's so unsettled now," said Squires, of Topeka. "Maybe it's all a big smokescreen, but my concern is that it doesn't seem to be blowing over anywhere."

The reason these schools exist is that local districts can't provide their resources, Squires said.

To protect the individual schools, Squires sent letters asking parents at the School for the Blind to contact their legislators and put their faces behind the bill.

"Just so that they know that there are actually people whose lives are impacted by this," Squires said.

Not a threat

The schools probably are not in danger, said Robert Maile, superintendent of the School for the Deaf.

Three studies in recent years -- one in 1993, one in 1986 and one in 1985 -- found that the schools were doing fine without merging.

"I'm really not looking at it as a threat to the school," said Robert Maile. "I'm really kind of confident that this will be kind of an educational experience."

Maile said many senators weren't familiar with the schools because they weren't part of the Legislature 11 years ago when the last study was done.

Combining campuses

The School for the Blind directly serves about 70 children -- 10 percent of blind school-age children in Kansas. The school for the Deaf houses about 150 students.

As many as three Lawrence students study at the School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kan.; three study at the School for the Deaf in Olathe.

The 16-acre School for the Deaf campus likely would be the site of a combined school, Maile said. But the campus of the School for the Blind, open since 1868, was just renovated in the past decade, Daugherty said.

Colorado, Arkansas, Florida and Michigan have combined their schools for deaf and blind students, Maile said, but their campuses are large.

"Their campuses are 20, 30 or even 60 acres," Maile said. "Most of them were built when they were out on the edge of town and the towns have grown around them."

Merged campuses would not mean a merged curriculum, Maile said. Combining campuses would potentially save the state money that both schools spend on food service and other similar expenses, he said.

But the students would have to interact on campus, and that doesn't make much sense, Squires said.

"When you're on a campus, you're trying to go from point A to point B," she said. "And in this case, one group of your students can't see, and the other can't hear."

© Copyright 2004 The Lawrence Journal-World. All rights reserved.