BOE mulls renewal of Ombudsman contract

COVINGTON — Members of the Newton County Board of Education will be asked to vote on a contract renewal with Ombudsman Educational Services, a provider of alternative education programs, at their April 22 meeting.

Board members heard a recommendation from Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey for the contract renewal at their Tuesday night work session.

The recommendation calls for renewal of the contract for the 2014-15 school year, with two one-year automatic renewals, unless the school district notifies Ombudsman in advance. The contract price for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years would be frozen at the current rate of $1,222,120, or a per slot cost of $6,259 for 60 middle school slots and $6,047 for 140 high school slots. The contract rate in the 2016-17 school year would increase to $1,234,300, or 1 percent, for the same number of slots.

The school system pays for the slots whether or not they are filled. If more students are enrolled than the contracted number of slots, the school system will pay $750 per student per month, or $50 per day for partial months, whichever is less.

In 2011 the school system saved more than $1.9 million by contracting with Ombudsman rather than providing alternative education services in-house.

Tuesday night, Mac Petit, regional vice president with Ombudsman, gave board members an overview of its performance over the past two and a half years it has provided behavior therapy and alternative and special education programs for students in Newton County.

During its tenure in Newton County, Petit said Ombudsman had provided services to 976 students, 70 percent of whom are male. The majority of students served — 76 percent — are black, he said, and about 55 percent were ninth- and 10th-graders.

Enrollment in Ombudsman was greatest in the first year, Petit said, when 425 students were referred from their home schools. There were 367 students enrolled in the second year, and he said enrollment is on track to match that this year.

An analysis of student performance showed that many students enrolled at Ombudsman performed below grade level, particularly in reading.

Petit said Ombudsman works to get students performing at grade level, assessing them when they enter the program in order to develop a “plan of action to target their academic deficiencies” and again when they leave the program.

“We are working to target students’ individual academic needs and remediation needs to get them where they need to be to perform on state standardized tests,” Petit said.

Petit said Ombudsman also addresses the social skills of students in the program, most of whom are over the appropriate age for their grade level.

“There is a strong social skill building component built into their daily and weekly activities,” he said. “The goal, as always, is to send the students back to their home school, to transition them back to their home school better off than when they came. But we realize that a big part of that is the inability to function socially within the classroom, with their peers, with their teachers.”

In terms of discipline, Petit said 96 students were suspended from the program in the first year, followed by 208 in the second year. That number had decreased significantly so far this year, he said.

“We’ve only had eight suspension days as of the end of the first semester this year,” he said. “We are very proud of that.”

Petit said there had been nine students to drop out of the program due to behavior issues over the past two and a half years.

“I think that is a significant number to highlight,” he said.