Sunnyside Outsources Its Therapy Program Sunnyside Outsource Program for Emotionally Disabled Students

By Jung, Yoohyun | AZ Daily Star, May 2, 2016 | Go to article overview

Sunnyside Outsources Its Therapy Program Sunnyside Outsource Program for Emotionally Disabled Students


Jung, Yoohyun, AZ Daily Star


The Sunnyside Unified School District will outsource its program for emotionally disabled students -- one that district officials say has struggled with staffing for years -- to a behavioral health agency.

Cenpatico Schools, a division of Centene Corp., which also owns Pima County's regional behavioral-health authority, will take over Sunnyside's Emotionally Disabled-Private program, or Ed-P, starting next school year. The partnership will cost Sunnyside more than $600,000 annually, which the district's chief financial officer said is cost-neutral.

"It's a good opportunity," said Eugenia Favela, assistant superintendent at Sunnyside. The district has had numerous challenges with recruiting and retaining qualified staff members for the program, she added. It's especially challenging because the program deals with students who have significant needs.

Ed-P programs serve students who have an "intense need for therapy," according to Chris Lane, an Ed-P specialist for the Arizona Department of Education. They are required to provide additional supervision, mental-health counseling, psychiatric services, case management and to isolate the students from schools' general population.

"This is a real serious decision to make for these kiddos," she said.

At least two people are required to be present in the classrooms, which can have a maximum of 12 students, at any given time, she said. There is typically a third person who can be readily available to help.

School districts are not mandated to provide such a program, Lane said. But they are responsible for finding some sort of arrangement for emotionally disabled students, whether it be a private-care system or within the schools.

Sunnyside officials say the district had no choice but to establish its own program -- which serves between 15 to 32 students annually -- in 1999, as options for care for emotionally disabled children have disappeared in the area, said Sue Tillis, the district's special-education director. Agencies the district previously worked with stopped providing Ed-P services.

"It's been a really challenging program," she said.

What finally pushed the district to decide to outsource the program was continuing vacancies for teacher and staff positions for the program, she said.

"We were never able to be fully staffed this whole year," she said.

Under Cenpatico's management, the program will move to Los Ranchitos Elementary School, which closed as a school in 2014, from the STAR Academic Center. …

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