March 27, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The La Grande School District is considering pulling out of a nine- member consortium that receives special education and other services.

The district is exploring the idea because of a dramatic jump in what the Union-Baker Education Service will charge for services to the consortium in 2002-03.

The La Grande district is paying $570,000 a year for ESD services in eight special-education categories and four non special-education areas.

In 2002-03 the La Grande School District would be charged $745,000 for the services it now receives.

La Grande district officials are determining if money could be saved if the district provides the services itself.

Right now we are just exploring, La Grande Superintendent Dan Arriola said.

The consortium is comprised of the six school districts in Union County and the three in Baker County. The ESD charges the districts for services based on their enrollments.

The ESD is raising its service charges because the money it receives from the state is declining.

Union-Baker ESD Superintendent Ed Schumacher said he understands the dilemma La Grande is facing.

It is a sign of the economic times, he said.

Schumacher said the La Grande School District and the ESD have a good working relationship. It is not an issue of cooperation at all, he said.

Schumacher said the ESD would still be able to provide the same level of services to the other districts if La Grande pulls out.

Presently, all members of the ESD consortium have access to speech therapists, diagnosticians, psychologists, resource rooms in schools for special-needs children, occupational therapists, physical therapists, nursing services and contingency money.

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The contingency funds are for students with unanticipated special needs or costs.

In addition to these special-education services and specialists, the Union-Baker ESD, based in Island City, provides four non-special-education services: technology, printing, courier and video services.

Union School District Superintendent Mike Wood is not sure how his district or the others in the consortium would be affected if La Grande pulls out. He said it is possible that the impact could be minimal depending on the needs of the other districts.

If it happens, we will pick up the pieces, put them together and find out where we are, Wood said.