A public school in South Orange will be renovated starting later this year with an eye toward potentially turning it into a dedicated school for special-education students, including those from outside South Orange-Maplewood.
School officials stressed this week that they still have options concerning the Montrose School, located on Clark Street, and that no decisions have been made.
One possibility is for the district to run the school, a step that would mean staffing the building with teachers and a principal. Another is to lease the building to a private entity to run the program, said Andrea Wren-Hardin, a school board member, in a phone interview Monday.
The district said the renovation, projected to cost around $2 million and set to begin this fall, will include roof and electrical repairs, and the addition of more parking spaces. The funding was approved earlier this year by the local Board of School Estimate.
“We’re still determining exactly what we’re going to use that building for,” school business Administrator Cheryl Schneider said. “And so the cost might change slightly depending on what the final use is going to be.”
Each year, the district has about 160 special-needs students, Superintendent of Schools Brian G. Osborne said in a phone interview. The number of such students fluctuates, he said.
Their classifications can range from students with autism to those with emotional and physical disabilities, he said.
Keeping more special-education students in district would help save on the expensive tuition and transportation costs of sending the students outside South Orange-Maplewood.
In the 2010-11 school year, the district spent around $11.4 million combined in those two categories, according to numbers the district supplied Tuesday.
Tuition for one student for out-of-district placement can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, Osborne said.
He made clear that the intent is not to entirely eliminate out-of-district placements, however.
The superintendent also stressed that cost savings is not the sole motivator, and that another is to keep those students close to their homes. And though no changes are planned right away, Osborne said a “soft target” date for the opening of such a school is scheduled for September 2013.
The district has hired a consultant, District Management Council, to suggest ways South Orange-Maplewood can better manage its special-education operations.
The district is looking to use the Montrose school in a different way after deciding to move the alternative high school program out of the building, bringing those students back to Columbia High School in September, Wren-Hardin said. As for other potential uses for the school, Wren-Hardin said there are no plans to sell the building.
Philip Sean Curran can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 116, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.