Many Hesperia students receiving preschool speech therapy, classes for autistic students and others who currently received special education services from the San Bernardino County will receive them instead from the Hesperia Unified School District starting in August 2009.


At their January 5 meeting, the HUSD school board approved $4.2 million in budget cuts, in an attempt to rein in the district's budget crisis. Among the cuts: $2.5 million in fees that will no longer be paid to the county to provide certain special education services, which will instead be provided by the HUSD.


The district's budget crisis is a result of the state of California's spiraling deficit -- $42 billion over the next 18 months, and climbing -- as the state provides 73 percent of the district's income. Average Daily Attendance payments are based on the number of students attending school. ADA payments have already been scaled back, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has talked about further cutting the payments, as well as funds for schools.


"The county is a contracted service, and they do a wonderful job for us, and we have a great collaborative relationship," said Margaret Snyder, Director of Special Services for the HUSD.


Counties contract with county because they're too small, the services are too specialized or the district is growing so quickly, they can't keep up with demand.


"Hesperia contracts out because they need some specialty things like Braille, sign language and mobility. And we'd also been growing so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with demand," Snyder said. "Well, Hesperia has grew, grew, grew and now our enrollment isn't growing any more. ... Now that we're not inundated with all these kids coming in, boom, boom, boom, what can we do to help these kids."


Not to mention that the county has always overcharged a bit as a policy.


"The county has to charge a little more so that they don't have a deficit."


Three types of special education services currently offered by the county will be taken over by the HUSD when the next school year starts.


"We looked at the speech and language component of our preschool program [offered for] three to five year olds," Snyder said. "We can screen and provide services to those kids. ... I came from Big Bear and we actually did the three to five speech programs."


Screening for eligible students will begin this school year. The county currently provides these speech therapy services to 140 Hesperia students.


The HUSD will also expand their offerings for autistic students, building on a program begun this year at Mesa Grande Elementary School, which provides instruction for eight autistic students between kindergarten and third grade. The school will likely offer two more such programs.


"We're seeing students with autism come in," said Snyder. "I believe, in California, we've seen it increase 100 percent in 10 years. There's a lot of students with autism. We're overflowing to county, but we need to start building capacity, because we can't just refer everybody."


(The eight Mesa Grande students are not the only autistic students in the HUSD: "We have kids with autism who are being taught in the regular program, who just need a little bit more attention.")


And finally, some students with mild cognitive delays -- which doctors call "mental retardation" -- will also be taught at their local Hesperia schools, rather than at a county facility.


"We can keep them in their home schools," Synder said. "We're looking at taking back the programs in baby steps, so we can build capacity to serve students at their home schools."


Despite the new services offered by the HUSD starting in August 2009, there will be others still handled by the county.


"There's a lot of students that we cannot really serve, more specialized students," Snyder said. "If we could not serve the students within our district, we would certainly refer them to the most appropriate service for them."


The next regular meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be held on Monday, January 26, at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.