The letter went out to parents, last week. Woodward-Granger is considering closing Grandwood School…due to the Department of Education’s decision to limit the amount of money it could take from its students’ home districts to pay for Grandwood’s expenses.
“I was in shock, I was in awe,” said Stephanie Estes, mother of a Grandwood student.
"It was just a horrible feeling,” said Chris Clogg, a longtime special education teacher and Grandwood advocate.
“The initial concern was, absolutely, that the facility is going to close,” said Cherie Tiffany, another Grandwood parent.
Grandwood parents and advocates panicked. Estes called Grandwood a "Godsend" for her son, Bryan.
Tiffany’s severely-disabled son, Austin, was also out of options.
“There is no other place in this state for these kids. They’ve all gone through multiple school districts!”
But superintendent, Brad Anderson’s letter was quickly disputed by the Department of Education. Under state law, Woodward-Granger can only charge its students’ home districts for the costs of educating the Grandwood students themselves. Woodward-Granger was looking for $34 per student.
“Woodward was claiming some general ed stuff that couldn’t be covered with special ed funds," said Jeff Berger, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. "So when we adjusted down to cover what was legitimately covered, it ended up $14.97.”
According to Berger, that’s enough to cover all costs of the school. Woodward-Granger wanted the additional money to pay for three new administrative positions, and that’s against state law.
“There are other funds to cover those positions, and actually in our assessment of district finances, they have plenty of money in their general fund to be able to do that without even raising a dime of taxes,” Berger said.
According to the Department, that general fund contains well over a million dollars.
Woodward-Granger administrators and teachers have now been forbidden to speak with media. But parents are still alarmed by Anderson’s letter and feeling lost.
“We have enough trouble raising our kids without having to figure out who’s telling us the truth!” Tiffany said.
The state assures them that the school will remain open, and Clogg says she sees little reason for doubt.
232331 “I’ve always felt that the Department of Education--and particularly in special education because that’s where my career--has been very supportive.”
Still, the 40-year special ed veteran says Grandwood is too important to be left hanging in any balance.
“I’d like to know long-range plans. I don’t want this to just be another year, and then what’s going to happen after that?” Clogg asks.
All sides say awareness of special education and its needs is half the battle, and if that’s true, then perhaps this dark cloud over Grandwood already has a silver lining.