Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Oshkosh school district says it has cut its relationship with behavioral services company that got $209,000

Photo by Miles Maguire

The Oshkosh Area School District said it spent no funds at the home from which foster children were removed.
By Miles Maguire

The Oshkosh Area School District has stopped contracting with Macht Village Programs Inc., the De Pere company that operated a foster home on West 11th Avenue from which two children were removed after a police investigation of living conditions there.

The district paid almost $133,000 to Macht Village for educational services covering two foster children who have since been removed from the home, according to data released under a public records request.

The money, billed at a rate of about $300 a day, was used to cover times when the boys were deemed unable to attend an Oshkosh school and were instead sent to Macht Village’s treatment center in De Pere.

Students who went to Macht Village “were not ready to be all-day in a middle school or a high school,” said Linda S. Jones-Pierron, the district’s director of special education. “If they are injuring themselves or others, that’s usually when we look at placement” at an outside agency.

She said no district money was spent at the 11th Avenue home, which has been owned by persons or entities affiliated with Macht Village for the last decade, according to city land records.

The money paid to Macht Village ultimately came out of federal grants provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to the school district.

Since 2013  the school district paid a total of $209,083 to Macht Village. The money was spent for fewer than 10 children during that time for “educational day programming,” Jones-Pierron said.

The goal of such programming is to teach students self-regulation and get them ready to return to an Oshkosh classroom. While in the program, students are taught by a licensed teacher using materials provided by the school district, Jones-Pierron said.

The OASD figures, coupled with the estimated $850,000 that Winnebago County has paid Macht Village over the last five years, indicate that local government agencies have spent over $1 million with the De Pere company. It operates on a for profit basis, providing a range of specialized services for children with severe emotional disorders.

Jones-Pierron said the school district stopped contracting with Macht Village in the wake of the criminal charges filed against the foster parents who lived at the 11th Avenue home. Winnebago County officials have similarly said they have been looking for alternate providers.

Mary Macht, the president of Macht Village, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the criminal case the parents, a 35-year-old man and his 60-year-old mother, pleaded not guilty May 2 to multiple counts of felony child neglect. Children were confined to their rooms at the home without access to the bathroom, according to police.

“I did have two [students] getting part-time services [at Macht Village in De Pere], and I removed them immediately,” Jones-Pierron said. “We are looking for other service providers.”

The 11th Avenue home was licensed as a Level 4 treatment facility, meaning that it could take in children with the highest level of behavioral adjustment needs. Because such facilities are in short supply, the Oshkosh residence became a place where social workers from other counties would send children in need.

“We are responsible to kids who lay their head within our district boundaries,” Jones-Pierron said. “Other counties place them, and then they enroll. They become our financial responsibility once they enroll and are laying their head here.”

The school district’s responsibility is to provide what’s called “free appropriate public education,” Jones-Pierron said. “We have to provide the same number of educational minutes” for all students, she explained.

If behavioral issues force the district to send students to other facilities, the costs can mount quickly. She said one treatment center in Waukesha County charges $167,000 per student per year.

Until about four years ago, the school district would place students temporarily at Waterwood School, which is part of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. But that facility is now full and can no longer accept students from Oshkosh, Jones-Pierron said.

She said she is hopeful that other service providers will come to Winnebago County because the need has been demonstrated by the publicity about the living conditions at the 11th Avenue home.

“The good that will come from this is everyone is hypervigilant,” she said. “I’m hopeful that change will come, and this never happens again.”

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