Group home expansion impacts schools

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:42am

LAKE FOREST PARK — An increasing number of special-education program students coming from an area of group homes is costing the Shoreline School District, officials say.

Twenty-five children from Fodor Homes, on 40th Avenue NE, are enrolled in special education programs throughout the district. Fodor Homes staff specialize in treating autistic children.

Sue Walker, executive director of student services in the school district, said Fodor Homes has recently been licensed by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to accommodate as many as 35 severely disabled students.

“Thirty-five is really the concern for us as a school district,” Walker said. “We want to and need to provide an appropriate program and support for the residents of this private residential home organization.”

The children from Fodor Homes are scattered at Brookside and Parkwood elementary schools, Einstein and Kellogg middle schools and Shorecrest High School.

The expansion of Fodor Homes is recent, Walker said, and the pattern was noticed by staff during the course of the school year. Although the district has served children from Fodor Homes for more than 10 years, Walker remembers the number of students from Fodor Homes was relatively small. The school district is accustomed to serving between 1-3 students from Fircrest School, and several others from private homes or foster care.

“We are not used to seeing a private organization become so large within one community,” Walker said.

Walker said school district staff were told that Fodor Homes owned eight homes and rented two, for a total of 10 group homes.

Liz Braun, executive director of Fodor Homes, said the company has children in six homes, two of which are owned by parents and are leased by Fodor Homes. The most recent house was bought this year, and all homes are located in close proximity to one another, in most cases right next door. Five are located along 40th Avenue NE. and one is located on NE. 174th Street.

According to Braun, the growth of Fodor Homes is due to the rise in autism in the Pacific Northwest. Braun said 22 children, ages 6-19, are enrolled in Fodor Homes, which has been operating since the 1980s. There are no further plans to expand, she said.

Braun said the organization is committed to serving children from King County. All of the children attend special education programs, and in addition to attending schools in the Shoreline School District, two attend Children’s Institute for Learning Differences in Mercer Island, she said.

“We are contacting the school district to see if we can ease the burden,” Braun said. “Every district is challenged.”

Braun said the issue of finances is ultimately a legislative topic and lawmakers need to be aware of the pressing need to fund the treatment of autism.

Although the school district has 25 students enrolled from Fodor Homes, staff must prepare to provide service for as many as 35, which stretches resources, Walker said. Each special-needs child that moves into the community does not necessarily come with the support of state special education funding, she said.

“The state has put a cap of 13 percent of total population as the maximum they will fund for special education,” Walker said. “We have already exceeded 13 percent by quite a ways.”

An April 22 meeting is planned by school district staff to discuss impacts of Fodor Homes expansion. Representatives are expected from Fodor Homes, DSHS, the state Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

“For us, it is just the number, strictly about the dramatic increase in the number in a short time,” Walker said. “Without any communication with us, we are looking to the state to help us understand this.”

According to Lake Forest Park city administrator Karen Haines, Fodor Homes is licensed by the Division of Licensed Resources of DSHS. Up until 2002, Susan Fodor and Margaret Anderson (also with a home on 40th Street NE) were licensed as foster parents. In 2002, Fodor Homes became a licensed agency and the number of houses was increased.

Sharon Porter, regional licenser for King County, said Fodor Homes are licensed as staffed residential homes. Each home must be licensed individually and each can be occupied by no more than six children. Porter said Susan Fodor has a total of seven licenses, one for each home including her own home which she uses for temporary emergency placements. Porter said there is no limit to how many houses can be licensed by a provider.

“She has submitted an application for more,” Porter said. “But I don’t know the count.”

Marybeth Poch, regional administrator for the division of developmental disabilities at DSHS, said 23 children from the department are placed in Fodor Homes, either by DDD or DCFS. Region 4 (King County) pays Fodor Homes $32,204 per month, and Regions 1, 3 and 5 pay $45,967 per month, totaling $78,171. One child at Fodor Homes has care paid for privately.

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