An interesting collaboration of public school districts and a community group is taking place in Bergen County NJ. Recently, three local districts, Bergenfield, Dumont, and New Milford combined resources to improve services available to autistic children and save money in the process.
It may not seem so incredible to those whose school districts encompass a county or a wide area, but New Jersey is very big on home rule. Bergen County is home to over 70 municipalities, each with their own local government, their own school board, their own police departments, etc. Most of these municipalities are no more than 4 miles square. Sharing resources and the authority that often goes with them is not done lightly! This is probably of historic significance.
The Tri-Valley program, as the collaboration is known, will serve 12 students in grades K-2 at first, and is expected to grow by 6 students a year. It was formed in response to the lack of space in current programs for autistic children, and the tremendous cost to send such children to private programs in the area. It will include speech and language, occupational and physical therapy, and life skills. Staff training and curriculum planning will occur with collaboration from the regional special services. A major savings will be achieved by consolidating transportation and facilities.
One thing that further distinguishes this initiative is a home-school connection which is being underwritten in part by a generous donation from local Elks lodges. The Elks have committed $100,000 to the program over the next 5 years. The contributions are from three local chapters. Bergen County has also approved a $15,000 grant to start up the classroom.