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School district will spend more on alternative school contracts

January 19, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Area School District will spend $147,000 more than expected this year on alternative school contracts for unsuccessful, expelled or disruptive students, but Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Ted Rabold says the programs' results are worth the cost.

The school board on Wednesday approved the additional money to reserve 23 slots with four programs, bringing the total number of positions to 127, Rabold said.

"We've used up all our slots," Rabold said Thursday.

When reserved slots are filled, Rabold said a student has to be returned to a regular school before another can be admitted to a program. The 127 slots represent about 1.6 percent of the student population.

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Four slots were added at the Manito Inc. school near Greencastle, Pa., for a total of 30, Rabold said. The number with Abraxas in South Mountain, Pa., went from nine to 15, and three were added to the 12 already reserved with Preeminence, a program in Chambersburg.

Rabold said the district will reserve 10 slots with VisionQuest in South Mountain, a day-school program with which the district previously had no agreement. He said the cost per student runs between $50 and $100 per day, depending on the program.

The district budgeted $704,000 for alternative school contracts in 2003-04, a figure that will increase to $851,725. Rabold said the figure may exceed $1 million in 2004-05.

The district was spending more than $1 million per year for placements in 2001 when Rabold joined the district. At that time, he said, students were placed in programs as needed, rather than having contracts for classroom seats.

He told the board last Wednesday that alternative program students fall into two categories - those who are academically, emotionally or socially unable to perform in regular schools, and those with behavioral problems that pose a safety concern.

Included in the 127 slots are 45 at the alternative high school in Chambersburg, another program run by Manito. Rabold said the dropout rate there was 24 percent last year, but an average of 55 percent have graduated over the past five years.

School Board President Stanley Helman said Wednesday that the dropout rate probably would be closer to 90 percent without the school.

Rabold said the district is working to make schools safer through a combination of programs. As an example, he said Faust Junior High School had 126 serious conduct violations last year. The figure is 29 so far this year.

He credited that to a combination of factors, including a police officer being stationed in the school and in-school programs to deal with racial issues that flared up there last year.

Also among the 127 positions are 12 in the Special Education Treatment program run by Manito at a district-owned building at Letterkenny Army Depot.

"We have some kids that absolutely cannot be in school" because they find the experience overwhelming, Rabold said of the program.

There is a separate off-campus suspension program at Letterkenny, also run by Manito, Rabold said.

"Kids misbehave, they get shipped right out to Letterkenny," Rabold said.

Out-of-school suspension was regarded as a reward for bad behavior by some students, but the experience at Letterkenny is one they learn to dislike, he said.

"You put your head on your desk, you lose your desk. If you slouch in your chair, you lose your chair," Rabold said.

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