When classes resume in the West Seneca School District this week, students enrolled in the alternative education program will be back in a traditional high school setting.
Sixteen years ago, saving money was the goal when the district established its own Alternative Learning Center on the top floor of the old Ebenezer School.
The district had been sending students to Erie 1 BOCES programs and paying tuition ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 each.
“It was cheaper for us to do it this way,” said Superintendent Mark Crawford. “We had the space; we had that Ebenezer building to do it.”
The program itself also benefitted.
“It was great because it evolved from being a place you just sent troubled young people to recognition that not everyone learns the same way,” Crawford said.
But at the end of the 2012-13 school year, saving money also was behind moving the program out of the Mill Road building.
The average per-pupil cost was about $29,440, compared with the district’s general cost of about $15,700 per pupil.
Annual operating costs for the Alternative Learning Center had topped $1.2 million. More than $1 million was spent on instructional positions; $182,551 for support staff; and $7,870 for supplies and materials, according to Brian L. Schulz, district treasurer.
The Ebenezer building will continue to function as headquarters for the technology and buildings and grounds departments.
Meanwhile, moving the alternative education program into the high schools also is helping plug holes in staffing left by other departures.
“We are trying to intelligently downsize the school system,” Crawford said.
The district’s payroll has dropped by 250 positions in the past four years; 132 employees took advantage of a separation incentive this year.
One person tied to the alternative learning program retired, as did several others working in support jobs such as food service and transportation.
Classrooms in each high school have been prepared to accommodate the alternative students, along with some staff who had worked at the center.
Students had the option of attending either high school – not necessarily the one in which they would have been enrolled.
“We still venerate the idea that there are young people who need a smaller learning environment ... to address their individual needs,” Crawford said.
Charles J. Lehman, who recently retired as the district’s assistant superintendent of pupil services, said: “The program changes from a place to a service. ... Each student’s program will be designed based upon the student’s need.”
“There will be classes that will have reduced size, classes that cross content areas to meet required course requirements, regular classes that students will attend, access to a full complement of offerings that were otherwise limited when the ALC was a place,” Lehman said.