VILONIA — Officials with the Vilonia School District said they believe the alternative education services they have been providing students is good, but if another education facility can provide better services, it merits a try.

The Vilonia Board of Education, Monday night, approved dissolving the district’s alternative school and contracting with Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative to provide alternative education services to students K-12 at Florence Madison School in Conway.

"I think this merits a try," said Jerry Roberts, board president. "If the ones teaching them here think this is going to be better for them, then why wouldn’t we think it was the thing to do?"

A new program, the contract with Arch Ford is for one year. The cost to the district will be about $40,000 for 10 student slots, said Dr. Frank Mitchell, superintendent of the Vilonia School District.

Recommending the move, Mitchell said, other districts, including Conway and Greenbrier ,have also contracted with the coop to send students to it. Conway and Greenbrier districts, as well as the Vilonia district, want the best for their students and the coop program, all in one location, Mitchell said, will allow more services to be provided.

The subject was discussed for about an hour before the board unanimously approved the measure. The board discussed the positives and potential disadvantages such as the busing aspect. The benefits to students, said Matt Sewell, director of special education for Vilonia, however, far outweighs the negatives. The students, he said, will not only be receiving more services they will be receiving specialized services.

Currently, he said, one teacher is teaching all subjects with the help of an aide. The students also are limited on counseling services, he said. In Conway, he said, there will be qualified and subject based teachers. For instance, a math teacher will teach math. There will also be 90-minutes of behavioral services a day at no cost to the parents. "Mental health is a strong component in this," Sewell said. The classrooms, Sewell said, will have no more than 12 students each.

Outsourcing to the Conway location will also cost the district less money, Mitchell. Yet, it was said the decision is not to "focus on the dollar amount but the services to the kids."

Jayme Wood, a parent in the audience, stressed her worries regarding students "getting lost in the shuffle." Her son is in the alternative classroom at the Vilonia Middle School. There, she said, he receives hands-on care. Outsourcing to another district, she said, she is concerned he will lose the personal aspect. Now, she said, he is "testing off the charts" a much different story than three years ago.

"I’m very fond of the Alternative Learning Center in this school district," she added. Financially, she said, she can see "where it makes sense." But as a parent, she said, she believes the school district is already doing a "phenomenal job."

Cathy Riggins, Vilonia assistant superintendent, said the students and their progress will be monitored with a goal of transitioning the students back into the regular classrooms.

The board also approved contracting with Arch Ford for participation in the JAG program, an alternative school for students, grades 9-12, who may have trouble working in a traditional classroom. Job based, this is the second year for this program. Mitchell said it has been successful helping students to stay in school.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the Vilonia Ministerial Alliance sponsoring the Baccalaureate to be held May 2 and the senior breakfast to be held May 4.

• Approved a change in the pay scale for non-route bus trips. While driving, the drivers will now be paid basically $25 per hour while driving. The district, Mitchell said, has been having a hard time finding drivers to drive long distances due to low pay.

• Discussed the scheduling of make-up days due to bad weather. The plan now, Mitchell said, is to use the days built in to the end of the year schedule, plus two days, making up the seven missed. That will put the district out June 6.

• Approved the purchase of two Kubota mowers from Fiser at a cost of $13,376.51 each.

• Approved financing new cameras for the school district at a cost of more than $450,000. However, the decision regarding the company that will get the contract was tabled until next month.

• Approved proceeding with filing for an E-rate discount regarding Internet connections for the new Intermediate School.