Special-needs program losing current provider

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County’s provider for state-mandated preschool for special-needs children is closing its local program, but county officials say they will find another provider.

County Public Health Director Denise Frederick says the program – known formally as the Preschool Special Education program – is losing its primary area provider, the Center for Disability Services. The Albany-based center provides what it calls CloverPatch, an early childhood services program.

The Center for Disability Services says it will close the CloverPatch program June 21, Frederick said.

Sites are located at the Gloversville Enlarged School District’s Boulevard Elementary School and Meco Elementary School, where participants are integrated with typically developing children. Frederick said the center also has a site at St. Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam.

Frederick said 35 Fulton County children are enrolled in the program, which provides evaluation, intervention, preschool classes and after-school programs to children with special needs.

Frederick said she expects the local children will undergo a “seamless” transition into other programs.

“CloverPatch is working with other preschools in the area to facilitate other programs taking over their classes,” she said.

Under the program, the county contracts with the sites, arranging transportation and payment of services. School districts’ boards determine the appropriate preschool special-education programs and sites.

She said although there is a provider shortage in the area, another program could assume operation of the CloverPath sites.

Frederick said the Center for Disability Services is closing its program because it “operated at a deficit for years and the loss was no longer sustainable. They also reported that they would work to assure the affected children were placed in other programs.”

According to the New York State Association of Counties’ website, the state’s Preschool Special Education program provides essential services such as speech and occupational therapy to children between the ages of 3 and 5 who have special needs. Counties have “no real role” in the preschool special education program, yet counties pay 40 percent of costs, the website says.

Frederick has previously explained her county health agency on Route 29 is responsible for paying the bills for the specialized state Education Department-mandated program.

The state doesn’t force the program on families. It is a voluntary program that parents request on behalf of their developmentally disabled children prior to their public school years. Children are evaluated and compared to other children their age. Individual school districts in the county have committees on preschool special education that recommend children to the program. County taxpayers pay the bill.

Sometimes, the transportation costs can be nearly $300 per day per child. If parents are unable to transport their children to school, the county must pay for the transportation – the same type of transportation used by school-age children.

Fulton County has in recent years spent about $2.5 million annually on its Preschool Education Program, billing Medicaid when it can for some reimbursement. The county typically spends more than $500,000 per year for transportation.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com