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Nicolet Renovating to Expand Special Education Program

For years Nicolet has bused its severely cognitively-disabled students to neighboring school districts because it didn't have a program, but with demand raising in other districts, Nicolet must now go it alone.

For years, Nicolet has bused its severely cognitively-disabled students to Brown Deer, Shorewood or Whitefish Bay schools.

As part of a cooperative with neighboring districts, Nicolet would take students from other districts where a program didn't exist for that student and vice versa.

But as the demand has grown for special education seats and those other North Shore schools have reached capacity, some schools' interest in continuing a co-op has waned, Nicolet Superintendent Rick Monroe said. Now, Nicolet is left to go it alone.

That has led school officials to start the conversation about expanding its special education program offerings, which in turn has sparked a discussion about renovating and remodeling a space for those students.

Two weeks ago, the School Board approved a $62,000 contract with Uihlein Wilson Architects to perform design work related to remodeling portions of the high school’s B-wing and renovation of a photography room and an adjacent support space.

That's when district officials realized it would cost a bit more than expected to renovate a space and educate those students in-house: an estimated $700,000 plus the cost of hiring new staff. 

"We thought, we'll fix up this room and add some plumbing; I think we are really surprised by this number," Monroe said.

Much of the work would bring the areas up to ADA compliance; perform some plumbing, HVAC and electrical work, but also projects like converting a dark room in the photography lab into a classroom and storage space.

The board tabled an agenda item to approve additional staffing for the program Jan. 28. School Board member Ellen Redeker said she would like to see the project cost in an estimated budget before approving any new hires. Officials say the program projected enrollment in the first year, 2013-2014, would be four to five students, with one teacher and one to two paraprofessionals. 

Parents and families will know and appreciate there is a place for their child at Nicolet, students will be in an environment with other non-disable peers, and the program will be cost-neutral after the initial start-up costs, officials say.

Monroe said many students are coming up through Nicolet feeder schools and parents get used to the district taking care of their children. It isn't until they reach the high school level they are forced to attend school in another district. 

"We have a moral obligation to take them and to service them at Nicolet," he said. 

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