4-3 vote goes in favor of contract

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

The recent 4-3 decision by the Alice ISD School Board to renew their contract with Ombudsman, Inc. of San Antonio to administer the alternative school program brought up the discussion of how the district could run the program itself.

The item passed with Vice President Yolanda Bueno, and board members Roger Saenz and Lee S. Ramon voting against the contract.

The contract calls for Ombudsman to manage the alternative program for $270,000.

In the contract, the company agrees to manage 60 spots during the year for students of AISD, during a half-day schedule. Students who are sent there for disciplinary problems in their regular classrooms are taught through computer aided instruction, using programs such as NovaNet and Plato.

Students cover the core curricula of science, math, reading and social studies.

Saenz said his concern is the effectiveness of the program.

"Half a day classes could be interpreted as a vacation for students who normally go a full day. The program's purpose becomes questionable if those students are not given more time than students not in trouble," Saenz said.

He believes the district needs to increase the quality of the curriculum, if the district can handle it, over what students receive today from Ombudsman, Inc.

Saenz said the students who are outside the normal education system deserve just as much education as those who spend their day in school, and by utilizing the alternative school program in its current form, he doesn't know if the district is optimizing that.

Now former Alice ISD Director of Secondary Education Amy Koenning disagrees. She sees the Ombudsman program as a vast improvement over what the district was able to do on its own.

"The program is much more successful now, when it comes to students being able to maintain and regain credit," Koenning said. "We've had kids graduate because of the program."

Koenning was principal at Alice High School when the district originally considered the switch from a district-run program to an outside company nearly eight years ago.

She said when it was a district-run program, the alternative school requested assignments from teachers, who would send work to the alternative school, wait for it to be sent back for grading, and then it was sent back to the school, which created more paperwork and stress for the district and the teachers.

She said now that the programs, such as Plato and Nova Net are so much more accessible at the high school, students can jump into lessons at the alternative school where they left off in their classrooms, or be able to complete the units covered in alternative on campus when they return.

Freshman students hold the majority of the 60 slots, Koenning said. More than 100 freshmen rotated in and out of the program during the 2006-2007 school year. During that period, 12 seniors, 12 juniors and between 30 to 40 sophomores also rotated out of the Alternative School Program.

The concern the district had this year, when the board considered a district program, was the time frame.

Superintendent Henry Herrera said to put a program in place wasn't impossible, but it would be difficult to do over the course of the summer. Items such as computer programs and classroom necessities would have to be procured, as well as at least five teachers.

A quick fiscal breakdown showed that a district program would run approximately the same amount as the Ombudsman program.

"It would be a rush for September, but doable," Saenz said following the meeting. After the vote in favor of Ombudsman, Inc., Board President R. David Guerrero directed the district to look into the possibility of having an in-district program, as to what the costs would be and specifically what would be needed to accomplish such a project successfully in the future.