Future plans for Edgewood Community Developmental School are still in limbo as Wayne County public school officials continue to weigh facilities and funding options.
The latest proposal called for the school to be part of the new construction of Meadow Lane Elementary School. But that was before officials discovered a “million-dollar shortfall” in federal funding for developmental day programs.
At a meeting of the school board’s facilities committee recently, Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Dunsmore explained about the steady drop in funding in recent years.
To qualify for the money, students have to be categorized as severely profoundly handicapped, factoring in such needs as feeding tubes, one-to-one nursing or non-ambulatory children requiring extra care.
Dunsmore produced figures from the past three years, starting with 2015-2016 when 145 students applied for the services, with 141 funded at 100 percent of the request, equating to $1.4 million.
“The next year, 2016-2017, our enrollment went up by 10 (to 155 students), but our number funded dropped by two (to 139), and we still had $1.4 million,” Dunsmore said. “Here’s where it gets fun — last year, our numbers dropped to 134 students, so one of the things we started doing was looking at the IEPs (individual education plans) of those kids and making sure they were developmentally challenged kids to be in that program, and if not, they can be in life skills classrooms in our general education (population).
“So we had 134, but only 89 were funded, and the budget dropped to $918,753.”
The situation grew further complicated this year, as Hurricane Florence delayed funding requests from the Department of Public Instruction. The base allotment for 2018-19 has been estimated at $347,447, roughly about half, or 50 percent of the previous year’s funds, Dunsmore said.
“So we’re dropping about $1.1 million in three years in that funding source,” he said. “We have no other state funding, no other federal funding to fill that gap.
“If we’re running a standalone developmental day program, our board of commissioners is going to have to fund us to the tune of about $1.2 million per year, and it’s going to continue to go up.”
Facilities committee member Jennifer Strickland asked Dunsmore if the district was looking at “doing away with Edgewood.”
Dunsmore, who has a background in working with exceptional children, said he is working to provide services for the special needs students. The problem that had kept officials scratching their heads up to this point, though, was why the exceptional-children program kept losing money.
The district is still looking at using a wing of the Meadow Lane building, the superintendent said, since there is an area for special education needs in the building that is currently under construction.
Along with that, though, there is discussion about space at Wayne Academy.
“The present Edgewood building, as everybody is aware, we struggle meeting the code, primarily with our preschool students, in the level of cleanliness and the upkeep of the building,” he said. “The building’s aging, and it doesn’t meet those needs, so we do need to find a place for those students.
“I want them in the best classrooms. They deserve that.”
Part of the legislative requirement is to provide public education in the least restrictive environment with same-age, non-disabled peers, Dunsmore said.
In the interim, that will be possible at least for Edgewood’s preschool and elementary students by providing space at Meadow Lane.
The district has also been considering the expansion of the Wayne School of Engineering and addressing the school’s student waiting list.
“We’ve had discussions with the principal about splitting the middle school and the high school (at WSE), and putting the middle school on the second floor of the (Wayne) Academy building,” Dunsmore said.
He said one suggestion was to use the first floor for middle and high school developmental day students. Sharing the building with WSE could work, since Gary Hales, WSE principal, said his students do a lot of service projects with the Edgewood students.
One concern is funding, Dunsmore said, especially since state and federal monies are dwindling.
“The commissioners want us to use all of our available space for classrooms rather than building new, that we use what we have with an eye on a budget,” he said.
Another wrinkle is that the student population in Wayne County is not growing, the superintendent said, calling it “very static,” something expected to be reflected in the district’s demographic study.
He said he expects the findings will show that there are fewer families with school-age children moving into the district.
“Our population’s aging, so we have a real static number of students that we’re having in Wayne County,” he said. “The issue is, they’re shifting around the county, and it’s not necessarily where our buildings are and where our space is.”
There have been ongoing discussions about redistricting and redrawing territory lines, but that still doesn’t resolve the need for newer facilities, Dunsmore said.
Many buildings are aging, and it is challenging to maintain them, much less construct new ones.
“It’s a little disheartening as the superintendent to go to brand new buildings and then go 6 miles down the road and have a building that was built in 1923,” he said.
That will be part of the conversations with the commission, he said of the district’s current facilities plan. Based on a 10-year projection, it is in its fourth year.
Edgewood celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.
Founded in 1967, it started out at First Presbyterian Church with a goal of helping developmentally delayed children improve physically, socially and emotionally. Funds from the Mental Health Association and Church Women United supported the school during the early years.
In 1972, a three-year federal grant provided for the hiring of a full-time director, special education teacher and other staff. It was renamed the Community Development School and housed at Greenleaf School.
One year later it moved to Walnut Street School as part of Wayne County Public Schools and Goldsboro City Schools. It relocated to its present site on Peachtree Street in 1983-84.