We need to yell

3 03 2009

Deaf school supports call for maintaining current state funding

By Vicky Wicks
For The Weekly News

Posted 3/2/09

Two advocates for deaf and hearing-impaired students met with concerned Rapid City people to pitch a plan for maintaining services currently provided by the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.

Magnet schools are existing schools modified to add services for the deaf, Olsen said. If that approach isn’t taken, then deaf students will be scattered around the state in public schools not equipped to receive them.

Small schools will bear great expense hiring interpreters for just one or two students, and those students will be isolated if there are no other hearing impaired students, he said.

Olsen is pushing for the state Department of Education to take control of the School for the Deaf. Currently it’s under the aegis of the Board of Regents, which he said doesn’t understand that the deaf are bilingual ��” using ASL and English ��” as well as bicultural.

The Legislature should establish a commission on Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and a bill of rights for deaf children, Olsen said.

Puthoff said the school was established in 1880, nine years before South Dakota became a state.

The South Dakota Constitution provides for continuation and funding of a school for the deaf, Olsen said, and he doesn’t understand how the state can close the school without changing the Constitution.

“We need to wake up. We need to yell. We need to complain,” Olsen said.

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

The school is on Gov. Mike Rounds’ list of cuts to balance the state’s 2010 budget.

Using American Sign Language, with interpreters for those few people in the audience needing them, Gary Olsen and Larry Puthoff with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf said that if the school closes, magnet schools should be created in or near Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre.

The two men, both retired from careers in education, gave their presentation at Communication Services for the Deaf on Tuesday, Feb. 17.


More: Rendell budget cuts aid for local school for deaf

5 02 2009

Published: Wednesday, February 04, 2009
The Scranton State School for the Deaf, the only state-owned school of its kind, may close at the end of this school year unless it finds a new source of money.

Funding for the school is eliminated in Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed 2009-10 budget, released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, area legislators said they are determined to keep the school open.

Dr. Fred Rosetti, the intermediate unit’s executive director, said he is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to ensure that the more than 100 students at the school will have adequate services for the 2009-10 school year. He said some kind of residential and day service for deaf students would likely still be provided in Scranton.

The School for the Deaf was budgeted to receive $8.2 million in the 2008-09 budget, but Mr. Rendell pared that sum last fall during a first round of budget cuts.

State Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak, Ed.D., said the cost of the school was too much for the state. About $5 million of special education funding is included in the 2009-10 budget to assist in the transition.

“We think there is a better way, a more optimal way,” he said at a budget briefing Wednesday in Harrisburg. Dr. Zahorchak added that the cost per student was about $80,000.

At the school’s campus in Green Ridge, the news hit like a bolt out of the blue.

Gov. Ed Rendell

Superintendent Monita Hara, Ed.D., did not learn what Mr. Rendell planned to propose until Tuesday at 8 p.m., when she participated in a teleconference call with Dr. Zahorchak.

He informed her that representatives of the department and the governor’s office would be at the school Wednesday to meet with management, staff and students.

“Basically, it’s like a bomb being dropped,” said Margaret Matisko, president of the Board of Trustees, who spoke with Dr. Zahorchak late Tuesday night. “When we brought the news forward (Wednesday morning), everybody was surprised and disappointed.”

Founded in 1880, as a class for eight deaf children, the school started in the basement of a church in downtown Scranton. With the efforts from Jacob M. Koehler, a deaf man from the area, a coal company donated the land where the school now stands.

By authority of a state legislative act approved in 1913, the school became property of the state and was renamed Pennsylvania State Oral School for the Deaf. In 1976, the school’s name was changed to its current designation, the Scranton State School for the Deaf.

The school employs 75 faculty and staff members, and serves 107 students from birth and 21 years of age. Dr. Hara said about half of the students, who come from 53 of the state’s 67 counties, are enrolled in the residential program — they come to the campus on Monday morning and return home Friday evening.

“It’s most definitely a shock,” said Dr. Hara, who spent most of the day in meetings. “The students were highly emotional hearing this news. They are like brothers and sisters to each other. The older ones look out for the younger ones, and they care about each other.”

She said parents were supposed to be informed about the elimination of state funding in a letter from the department.

“The parents many times have fought to get there children in here,” she said. “It’s just sad to me that now they have to fight to let them stay here.”

Dr. Hara said she had no details about the proposed partnership between the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and intermediate unit.

Dr. Rhoten, who is deaf, said through an interpreter that he is hopeful the relationship between the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and the intermediate unit will include the continued employment of some of the faculty and staff employed at the school.

The Pittsburgh school is one of four charter schools for the deaf and blind in the state, and unlike the Scranton school, is not owned by the state, Dr. Rhoten said. The school is funded by students’ home districts, the state and by donations, he added.

“We’re interested in serving kids, that’s our commitment,” Dr. Rhoten said. “We want to minimize the negative impact this may have on the community.”

Area legislators said they were opposed to the school’s closure.

In a statement, Sen. Robert Mellow, D-22, said he was outraged by the decision and was offended the state made no effort to discuss the plans with school officials or legislators prior to Tuesday night.

Mr. Mellow also said he was offended that the education department bypassed school officials and sent an “overnight letter” to parents on Tuesday informing them of the closure.

Rep. Ken Smith, D-112, said he was informed of the intent to close the school by two Department of Education officials who were waiting in his Harrisburg office when he arrived Wednesday morning.

He vowed to resist any attempt to shut down the facility, asking how the state could put a price-tag “on those who are in most need among us.”

Ms. Matisko said she has promised students the board will do everything it can to keep them together and would have preferred that there was a plan in place to do that before the governor made his announcement.

“It may not be called Scranton State School for the Deaf, but there will be a program,” she said. “The word used was ‘hopeful.’ All of us are hopeful that will occur.”

Staff writer R.B. Swift contributed to this report.

Instead, plans are in the works for the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit to partner with the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to provide services — likely at the 10-acre Green Ridge campus, said Donald E. Rhoten, superintendent of the Pittsburgh school.

State budget halts work at California School for the Deaf in Riverside

2 02 2009

The Press-Enterprise

Students at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside can see steel girders and piles of wood where one day there will be new dorms, but there were few signs of progress on the buildings last week.

Because of the state budget stalemate, there is no money to finish work on the cottages and an activity center. A skeleton crew of workers was there to finish the roof on one set of cottages and replace a sidewalk outside the activity center, but otherwise the projects have been halted, spokeswoman Laurie Pietro said.

Last month, a state board decided to suspend funding for billions of dollars in public works projects around the state, including at least $1.3 billion in school, road and public works projects in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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Rodrigo Peña / The Press-Enterprise
Crews finish a few small projects, including a section of concrete, at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, before state funding problems shut down work. The school halted $60 million in projects, including new dorms, because of the state’s freeze on money for public works projects.

The work included $60 million in projects under way at the state-run School for the Deaf.

“Students are excited. Now it’s on hold,” Mal Grossinger, the school’s superintendent, said last week through a sign language interpreter.

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The dorm rooms at the School for the Deaf date to the 1950s. New cottage-style dorms are under construction, but work is now halted because of the state funding problems.

Contractors got formal notification of the shutdown on Jan. 15, said Allen Young, construction and maintenance supervisor for the state education department’s special schools division. The division runs California’s schools for the deaf in Riverside and Fremont.

The delay likely means the activity center at the Riverside campus will not be finished in time for graduation ceremonies in June, as school officials had hoped, Pietro said.

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Rodrigo Peña / The Press-Enterprise
Roofing work is among the last projects to continue at the School for the Deaf in Riverside.

The first set of new, cottage-style dorms that will house about 100 students were scheduled to be finished in August. The school eventually plans to replace all of the block-wall dorms that were built in the 1950s.

Students ask almost every day when the dorms will be completed, said Farley Warshaw, the school’s residence director. Many parents who visit the school decline to send their children there after seeing the old dorms, he said through a sign language interpreter.

“It’s very, very frustrating,” he said.