Alternative school follow-up: Should District 117 pursue existing alternative programs?

By Gary Scott on March 19, 2016 at 1:25pm

District 117 wants to set up an alternative school program at the former Franklin Elementary building, pictured here.

Reaction has been pouring in from community members about Jacksonville School District 117’s plan to open an alternative education center for suspended students.                         

Many listeners reacted on the WLDS-WEAI News Facebook page to our Thursday morning story about the district’s new plan to address increased levels of extreme behavior from students over the past few years.

One of the big questions people are asking focuses on the choice of building.

A possible location for the program is the former Franklin Elementary school, closed in 2012 by the district school board because of increasing maintenance costs. It’s currently home to 8 Points Charter School, which was denied a new contract by the school district for the next school year.

Several people questioned why the school district would be pursuing a program in a building it recently decided to shutter- a question we passed on to District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek.

“We need a location, and our choices for locations are very limited. If we’re going to run an alternative school- which, there’s definitely a need for all of our district students to have an alternative facility- that is the best possible place we can see to potentially place it, other than renting out maybe a large store in the area that is open to be rented, and then putting walls in and putting offices in,” he says.

“It’ll save the taxpayers money by going through this rental, if [it] were to go through, because all of the stuff that we would need to have it operate as a school is already in place.”

Franklin is owned by the Morgan County Housing Authority. In documents provided to the school board and the public at Wednesday’s meeting, Ptacek said the district might be able to reach an agreement to pay $36,000 annually on a three-year contract.

Back in May of 2014, when 8 Points announced they were moving to Franklin from their previous location at the former Blue Cross building on East State Street, they said MCCS agreed to make renovations including a new roof, air conditioning, new paintwork, and a new gym floor.

Another question being posed- what about the existing alternative schools in Jacksonville? Garrison School is run by the 4 Rivers Special Education Center. But, Ptacek says Garrison is…

“Absolutely out of the question. Garrison is a Four Rivers Special Education Co-Op school, and what we’re talking about using the alternative school for, the primary uses of it are for students without [Individual Education Plans]. So, Garrison’s not even a possible solution,” claims Ptacek.

“A lot of times, people start thinking about alternative school and they go to look at a place such as Garrison. Garrison is a therapeutic setting for students that require those services based on their IEP needs. That’s not an alternative school in how we’re discussing our alternative school options.”

The other alternative school in town- Lafayette- is operated by the Regional Office of Education.

Despite Ptacek describing the condition of the building itself as “poor”, he says there’s a possibility in the long run that the district and regional office could work together to have their alternative programs in the same place.

“We have gotten into some discussion with the ROE about that, and that’s still a possibility for next year moving forward,” says Ptacek.

“But, the thought from the ROE’s position, what I’ve gotten, is they still don’t know how that would potentially affect their grants that they get- the state school grants and the TAEOP grant, which is for truancy prevention- if they were to jump into this arrangement with the school district or the next year.”

You can listen to the full interview with Ptacek on Monday’s “What’s On Your Mind?” on WLDS 1180 AM.