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Meeting of the Board of Regents | February 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009 - 11:00pm

sed seal                                                                                                 







Rebecca H. Cort



The New York State School for the Blind (NYSSB)


January 23, 2009



Goals 1, 2 & 5








Issue for Discussion


Did the Request for Letters of Interest issued by the Department result in the identification of potential qualified operators of NYSSB?  If yes, what are the next steps?


Reason for Consideration


To discuss the results of the Request for Letters of Interest issued by the Department to identify potential qualified operators of NYSSB.  If the VESID Committee determines that the Request for Letters of Interest resulted in the identification of potential qualified operators, next steps will need to be determined. 


Proposed Handling


This issue will come before the VESID Committee at its February 2009 meeting. 


Procedural History


In September 2007, the Board of Regents supported VESID’s recommendation to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to seek an external consultant to evaluate potential options and make recommendations regarding the future operation of the New York State School for the Blind.  The RFP to evaluate potential options for the future operation of the New York State School for the Blind (NYSSB) was issued in December 2007.  The intent of this RFP was to seek information on possible alternate structures which might permit the program to expand in ways not currently possible. A contract was awarded to Education Transformation Group (ETG), a consulting firm based in Buffalo, NY.  


The ETG final report:  Evaluating Potential Options for the Future Operation of the New York State School for the Blind was distributed to the Regents in June 2008 for review and discussed at the September 2008 VESID Committee meeting.  It was determined that a change in operator may be in the best interest of the students and the program and that further exploration was appropriate.


At the recommendation of the VESID Committee, a Request for Letters of Interest was developed and distributed.  The results of this process will be discussed at the February 2009 VESID Committee meeting.



Background Information


NYSSB is a State-operated school and 5-day residential program located in Batavia, New York for students that are visually impaired and developmentally disabled.  There has been a significant decline in enrollment of students with disabilities at NYSSB over the last several years, resulting in the need to evaluate possible changes to ensure the future of a strong program to serve this unique population.  It is projected that enrollment will continue to decline under the current school and residential structure.  The reduction in enrollment is a result of:


  • Federal and State statutory requirements that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment;  
  • Increases in the development of local capacity to serve severely disabled students;
  • Limited demand for 5-day residential programs; and
  • Increased demand for 7-day residential programs for the most multiply disabled students.  (NYSSB’s 7-day OMRDD ICF will be phased out as of June 2009.)


Historical Context:


  • NYSSB at Batavia was founded more than one hundred years ago to provide blind students, who had no local education options, with a school program leading to a regular high school diploma.  Enrollment was as high as 300 students at one time.
  • NYSSB is one of the largest employers in Batavia with approximately 150 employees of the State Education Department (SED) and has tremendous community support.  As a State-operated school, employees are members of the State retirement system.
  • During the last several decades, as local school programs have been developed to serve the original population of blind students, NYSSB’s population has changed significantly and the School now serves only students who have multiple disabilities including developmental disabilities, as well as orthopedic impairments and/or emotional disabilities in addition to blindness.
  • In 1986, a portion of NYSSB’s 5-day residential program was converted to two Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) units licensed by OMRDD to provide a high level of medical care and access to a 7-day residential program for 18 students.
  • In April 2005, an OMRDD monitoring report identified serious issues at the ICF regarding the provision of medical care and, with the agreement of the Commissioners of Education and OMRDD, the operation of the ICFs was transferred to OMRDD. 
  • The population of the 5-day residential program has continued to include students with substantial multiple disabilities, including many students who might be eligible for a 7-day residential program.
  • OMRDD has begun the process of phasing out the existing 7-day residential programs operated as Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF).  One ICF was closed as of June 2007 and it is anticipated that the second ICF will be closed as of June 2009, as students are transferred to community residences in conformance with OMRDD’s philosophy of increasing the integration of students into their local communities.
  • The reduction in enrollment resulted in the need to layoff 12 aides from the residence and school in July 2007; however, 11 out of the 12 aides have been rehired as a result of retirements and resignations. 


Winter Update


  • Mark Leinung, Assistant Secretary for Education for Governor Paterson, visited NYSSB on December 5, 2008.  After touring the School, Mr. Leinung met with parents, union representatives, the Board of Visitors and SED staff. 


Request for Letters of Interest


              In response to the recommendation of the VESID Committee, the Department developed and distributed a Request for Letters of Interest with an objective of identifying potential qualified operators of a program that would enable NYSSB to expand in ways not currently possible.  It was distributed to schools and agencies throughout the country that have experience providing educational and residential services to individuals with visual impairments. 


Eligible respondents included public and private entities that have the required qualifications and experience as a provider of special education programs and services to students with intensive, multiple disabilities.  Respondents were required to demonstrate that they have:


  • A clear vision and plan for the revitalization of the School that would secure its future as a center for excellence;
  • Experience and demonstrated success in educating students with multiple disabilities including those with visual impairments;
  • Experience operating a 7-day residential program that addresses the following areas:  health, safety, social and recreational;
  • Experience with research-based assessment procedures, curriculum development, instructional strategies, evaluation methods, and behavior management techniques in regard to the aforementioned population;
  • The ability to recruit, support, and retain educational and residential program staff and be willing to discuss a process to retain current employees;
  • The ability to recruit and train a strong and effective governing board; and
  • In-depth knowledge of the New York State special education system including IDEA and Part 200 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, Committee on Special Education, etc.


The Request indicated that no recommendations coming forth from the solicitation are binding in any way on the respondent, the Board of Regents or NYSED.


Informational Session and Tour


Interested parties were invited to attend an informational session and tour of NYSSB, which took place on December 12, 2008.  There were approximately 30     attendees representing four provider organizations, the Public Employees Federation (PEF), Legislative staff, the Board of Visitors, and SED.  


The session concluded with a Question and Answer session.  Participants were also allowed to submit follow-up questions via e-mail.  VESID staff responded to a variety of questions primarily regarding staffing, student demographics, and fiscal information. 


Responses and Results


              Responses to the Request for Letters of Interest were due on January 8, 2009.  Three non-binding letters were received from eligible respondents including Easter Seals New York, Perkins School for the Blind, and a combined response from Mary Cariola Children’s Center and Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI) Goodwill.  A review team reviewed and rated the responses according to the above criteria.  Through this process, it was determined that the Perkins School for the Blind was the most qualified potential provider, articulating a clear vision and plan for the revitalization of the School that had the potential to secure its future as a center for excellence.


Perkins School for the Blind


Perkins is the first school for the blind in the United States, entering their 180th year of service in March. Perkins currently operates a campus educational program in Massachusetts with almost 200 students from preschool through high school and offers both residential and day programs including students whose only challenge is their visual impairment as well as those who face multiple challenges. 


In addition to campus-based programs, Perkins offers a wide range of services for individuals in the community, providing direct services to over 93,000 individuals through a range of programs including:


  • Early intervention services for hundreds of babies who are visually impaired (age 0-3);
  • Itinerant services for hundreds of school children in public schools;
  • Weekend and short courses during school vacations and summer programs for students in public schools;
  • Teacher training institutes and seminars for thousands of teachers in public schools working with visually impaired students;
  • Low vision clinic for individuals who are visually impaired with other disabilities;
  • Adaptive technology training and services;
  • Publisher of books and on-line resources to train professionals, paraprofessionals, parents and others;
  • Operator of the Braille and Talking Book Library providing braille, large print, audio books, and other accessible library material through the mail in several states;
  • Manufacturer and distributor of the Perkins Brailler and reseller of adaptive technology; and
  • Through international efforts, Perkins has started, grown or supported hundreds of schools in 63 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Russia and more recently the Middle East. There are thousands of students currently being served in these programs.


Perkins Vision for Batavia


If Perkins were to be selected to operate NYSSB, they would recommend adjustments in the current services offered and the range of students served through Batavia.  The following is a general outline of Perkins’ long term vision for NYSSB:


Services potentially offered on campus:


  • Seven day a week program.
  • Day and residential offerings.
  • Open 11 months of the year (possibly longer).
  • Full range of academic, clinical therapies, expanded core curriculum, vocational, social and recreational opportunities.
  • Health, welfare and safety programs.
  • Students are offered a set of services to meet the objectives outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).


Students potentially to be served on campus:


  • Students currently enrolled would be eligible to continue.
  • Students from throughout New York State.
  • Students from other states and possibly Canada.
  • Some New York students served in other parts of the country.
  • Serve students starting with pre-school (age 3).
  • Serve students with visual impairment and those with other challenges in addition to their visual impairment.
  • Serve students where a total communication environment will benefit students with multiple disabilities (including some who are not visually impaired).


Services potentially offered in the community:


Once the time was appropriate, Perkins would seek to expand into the community to assist more students and their teachers at public schools primarily in Upstate and Western New York. These services could include some of the following:


  • Early intervention services for babies who are visually impaired (age 0-3).
  • Itinerant services for school children in public schools, working closely with their classroom teachers and other specialists.
  • Weekend and short courses during school vacations and summer for students in public schools.
  • Teacher training institutes and seminars for teachers in public schools working with visually impaired students. This includes working with a wide range of New York non-profit service and educational institutions.
  • Adaptive technology training and services.


In summary, based on the information available, Perkins would seek to turn around the decline in the current campus based enrollment.  Over time, they would recommend the expansion of services to assist school districts to provide services to students in public schools who are visually impaired. 




We recommend that the Committee determine if VESID should begin exclusive discussions with Perkins School for the Blind administration to explore in more detail the feasibility of Perkins operating NYSSB.  Areas requiring further study include legal, personnel, fiscal, facilities, and student issues. 


Timetable for Implementation


              If the VESID Committee determines that the Department should enter into discussions with Perkins School for the Blind, additional resources need to be identified to complete the further study.  If determined that it is feasible for Perkins School for the Blind to operate NYSSB, the VESID Committee will then decide if VESID should put forward a proposal for statutory revision to Article 87 of the Education Law.  If so directed, VESID will consult with legislative leaders and other stakeholders and then report back to the VESID Committee.