RD53 - Plan for Consolidating Services for the Deaf and/or Blind and Multi-Disabled Students Served by Virginia's Two Schools at Staunton and Hampton

Executive Summary:
The Consolidation Task Force proposes a plan to the Governor of Virginia and the General Assembly to build a new facility designed for the instructional needs of children with sensory impairments in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The new school shall replace the two current Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The Task Force attempted to reach consensus for its consolidation option. The Task Force was able to narrow the options from four to two options using consensus; however, the Task Force used a simple majority vote approach to select the final consolidation option. The options that were voted on were: leave both schools open with changes and build a new school, thus closing both existing schools. See Appendix B for a summary of the Task Force votes and each member’s reason for choosing that option.

The Task Force agreed that a recommendation about the specific location of the new school be left up to the discretion of the Board of Education because the process used to initiate the building of the new school includes the conduct of a feasibility study. A feasibility study evaluates the costs of constructing new buildings on either of the existing sites and compares it to the costs of building a new school on a new location. The Task Force agreed that the location should be a central one in the state and have easy access to interstate travel systems. The selection of the location should also consider the travel time for parents from the Hampton Roads area including military personnel and their spouses.

The need for a new facility that combines programs is soundly based on fiscal and programmatic concerns. The two schools currently serve approximately 200 students combined. The division of 200 students between two sites has resulted in reduced quality for both programs, particularly in recent years. Arbitrary division of a low-incidence population has diverted needed resources from the classroom. Thus, the instructional needs of children are not met as effectively as they could be in a combined school.

The need for consolidation of the two state schools for the deaf and blind has been recognized and considered repeatedly since 1979. Implementing this change has been subject to different opinions and political positions about which campus merits selection as the combined program site. Providing a combined program to one of the existing sites presents logistical barriers and may reflect elevated campus renovation costs compared to new buildings on a new campus. The continuation of two schools is not cost effective because it requires duplication of service in every area (e.g., teachers, equipment and specialized devices, two residential programs, two health centers, two food services teams, two buildings and grounds teams and two transportation fleets). The current capital outlay and operational costs required for maintaining two campuses is disproportionate to a desired ratio between instructional and administrative costs. The current annual budget of approximately $7 million, for each school, falls below the budgets of other state schools similar in size to the two schools in Virginia. Although a comprehensive analysis was not completed, a review of several state schools shows that they tend to serve more students, have larger budgets and offer additional services that are needed in Virginia.

The renovations needed at either existing site are costly and, if completed, would not result in a facility designed for the needs of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or visually impaired, including blindness. An energy efficient, state-of-the-art facility that provides day and residential services to all eligible students with sensory impairment is considered a better use of state dollars. Locating the school in close proximity to an institution of higher education will facilitate the development of the needed partnership between the DOE, the new school, local school divisions, the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, the Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, adult rehabilitative services, and other appropriate entities to achieve the goal of improved state coordination of services. A well-established partnership with a university would facilitate the implementation of needed outreach services, teacher preparation liaison activities, paired technical assistance to school divisions, interfacing with child development clinics, inter-agency initiatives, and development of a needed post-secondary services for students.

The intended benefits through consolidation of programs at a new facility include the following:

• Improved instruction for children, a single point of admission and a better range of program options for students

• Improved support to parents and communities (American Sign Language (ASL) instruction, parent training, counseling)

• Increased support to school divisions (more students admitted, less termination of services)

• Coordination of services in the state through partnerships with appropriate agencies

• Provision of needed teacher training to increase the pool of qualified teachers

• Leadership from the new school to provide state wide technical assistance

• Reduction of the current operating costs associated with duplication of service

• Increased allocation of fiscal resources to instruction

• Improved climate for teacher recruitment and retention