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Danville Schools could end partnership with child development center

The Danville School District and Wilderness Trace Child Development Center may dissolve their 20-year-plus partnership next school year.

During the Danville School Board working session Monday night, Superintendent Dr. Tammy McDonald made the recommendation for the board to not renew the annual contract as a fiscal agent for WTCDC.

McDonald said as fiscal agent, “We hire employees for them and they pay us back.” The district is not responsible for utilities, taxes, maintenance or equipment. “Literally, just the hire of employees and are reimbursed twice a year, currently.”

WTCDC is a learning center that serves children from birth through five years of age from Boyle, Mercer, Lincoln and Garrard counties by providing educational and therapeutic services for children with disabilities.

McDonald said she was told that the partnership began about 20 years ago so that WTCD “could better recruit for employees. … but they have a mechanism of some sort for paying employees now.”

WTCDC now has five employees that the Danville school district is not responsible for.

The district pays the salaries for the other 10 WTCDC employees — two are certified and eight are classified positions. These employees are paid monthly from the Danville Schools budget, then WTCDC reimburses the district twice a year, McDonald said.

Since the 10 employees are “legally Danville School employees, several administrators do work for the contract,” including payroll, time and payroll tracking, processing paperwork, employee interviewing and evaluations and keeping track of professional development, McDonald said.

Mary G. Hogsett Primary School principal Suzanne Farmer also serves as supervisor of Danville’s WTCDC employees, she said, and is required to go to WTCDC on occasion.

McDonald said she would get “hard numbers” for the board to review, but it should consider that “It’s a fairly large amount of money that we pay the employees each month,” but only is reimbursed by the center twice a year. Because that amount is not drawing interest, she said, “We’re losing interest on those funds.”

WTCDC executive director Libby Suttles said the school pays the district a 2% administration fee, which averages about $10,000 to $12,000 annually.

McDonald said, “Since we carry that payroll … for six months at a time, and if you add the hours that Mrs. Farmer puts in, and all the folks at the central office,” the district is contributing more than the 2% administration fee that WTCDC pays the district.

“It’s a pretty heavy lift for several employees,” McDonald said. She asked the board to consider, after 20 years of helping WTCDC with its payroll, “that we not move forward with renewing the contract.” She said other school districts also send their students to WTCDC, so they may want to take over the responsibility and “pick up the lead with that work.”

“I would recommend that we not renew the contract for the 2020-21 school year and that we give our administrators that time back to really focus on Danville students and Danville schools,” she said.

School board Chair Steve Becker said the recommendation will be on next week’s agenda at the regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at the central office for further discussion.

“We have decisions we have to make that are sometimes very difficult,” Becker said. “I do take this very seriously. Everything we do, no matter what, has an effect somewhere down the line. And we also want to do the best for Danville Schools and our kids. Anything we do, we know we honestly put our hearts into it and really want to make the right decision.”

On Tuesday, Suttles explained that twice a year, the center receives federal funding from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding, which is used to reimburse the Danville School District for their 10 employees salaries and benefits at the center, semi-annually. And because IDEA funding decreases every year, WTCDC works to raise money through grants, fundraisers, and from proceeds from its Blue Bird Market to keep the center running.

WTCDC operates on a “combination of funding sources,” Suttles said.

Without the ability of being able to reimburse the district twice a year, when the IDEA funding becomes available, “We would not be able to make the monthly payroll,” Suttles said.

Having Danville School District as its fiscal agent, WTCDC has also been able to purchase more affordable insurance and retirement benefits for all of its employees, Suttles said, which helps the center attract and retain qualified teachers and therapists.

“I certainly don’t want to cost them valuable resources,” Suttles said. “We feel like we’re holding up our end of the bargain.”

Suttles said Danville schools and the center have partnered for more than 20 years, and if it suddenly ends that relationship, WTCDC may not have enough time to secure another partnership with another school district in time for next year.

She added, “If Danville Schools does not renew the memorandum of agreement, Wilderness Trace will be forced to face closure and will be unable to provide services for the most medically fragile children and children with diverse abilities.”