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Utah Schools for Deaf and Blind Will Merge With Charter School

Utah Schools for Deaf and Blind Will Merge With Charter School

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and the Jean Massieu School, a deaf student charter school based in Salt Lake City, are merging, as was encouraged by the 2004 Legislature.

"It will be better financially for both parties, and there won't be as much overlapping," said Joe Zeidner, a Jean Massieu board member.

The merger is expected to be finalized this spring, with the transition occurring over the summer and full implementation by fall, school leaders said.

The schools will maintain their own names and locations.

At Jean Massieu, students are taught to appreciate and value both American Sign Language and written English, and to value both cultures.

Some students are not hearing-impaired but wish to learn ASL because they have deaf relatives.

Jean Massieu started in 1999 because USDB did not teach ASL at that time, and the schools did not have the same philosophies.

USDB now teaches ASL but focuses on total communication of voice, along with sign. The school teaches reading lips and signed English, which is signing out each word using English grammar. ASL has its own grammar system.

The two schools have been meeting for about a year to identify key issues, said Karl Wilson, director of special education services for state Office of Education.

The legislative action came after a legislative audit concluded that USDB's superintendent at the time, Lee Robinson, misrepresented the school's financial condition to the Legislature.

Under scrutiny was $850,000 that could have been used to hire teachers, but instead the jobs were left vacant.

Robinson said he was simply using conservative budgeting practices in which he chose to wait until he knew how much funding would come in, then apply it to the next year's budget.

The practice resulted in the Legislature's directing the state Office of Education to maintain more oversight of USDB.

Linda Rutledge replaced Robinson last August. Robinson is now the program director for the North Region School for the Blind.

Legislators also had been told that Jean Massieu was suffering funding woes.

Charter schools are funded through a weighted pupil unit, similar to mainstream public schools.

USDB receives line-item funding from the state, generally a larger amount than mainstream public schools, since the students have special needs.

Jean Massieu likely will have more funding opportunities under the merger.

Although the charter school wants the merger, the leaders have concerns about sharing leadership, and dealing with the bureaucracy of a larger organization.

"We will lose autonomy and lose power," Zeidner said. "And I worry about the little personal touches getting lost in the merge."

But Zeidner said so far relations have been positive, and both sides have been open to each other.

Rutledge said she doesn't expect to lose staff, or phase out positions due to attrition, after the merger.

Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind was founded in 1884 and provides statewide services to 1,799 students, from birth through age 21, who are hearing or visually impaired. The Ogden site is home to a residential program and day classes. USDB also provides statewide day school programs, outreach classes and teacher consultations.

Jean Massieu School has 60 students, preschool through eighth grade, and is in the old Salt Lake City library, 209 E. 500 South, Salt Lake.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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