LISBON - The fate of the EDI-South workshop in Calcutta could be changed, now that the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities has approved extending the date of the possible closure through the end of the 2014-15 school year.
The suggestion was made by board member Michael Parkes after spending about a half-hour listening to emotional pleas from clients, their parents and some staff to keep the workshop open.
Everyone who spoke agreed they felt blind-sided by the move that was not announced until early this month, despite having been in the planning stages for at least two years.
"We could have certainly done a much better job of notifying people ... and we blew it," Parkes said. "I also feel we could have been a little too aggressive in setting the date that we did."
The decision had already been made to close the Calcutta workshop and move clients and staff to the EDI Central location in Lisbon by Aug. 25 of this year.
Lisa Buchanan, who explained her concern about the move in a letter to the editor last week, told the board Tuesday she wanted to know why the public was "kept in the dark," and Barb Bussard agreed, saying it appears the decision was "made in isolation, without any consideration" given to clients and their families.
Both women have relatives who have been clients of the workshop in the southern part of the county.
Buchanan's sister Leah Scott has worked at the EDI South workshop the last 22 years and sat crying quietly beside her during the meeting.
Others also shed tears as they pleaded with the board to reconsider the closure, like Roy Jeffrey Holtzman, who also works at the Calcutta facility.
"I love them, I want them open, please stay open," he said.
Donna Farnsworth, whose son Michael has also spent 22 years at EDI South, choked back tears as she told her story.
"The workshop has always been our support. When Mike is at the workshop I don't have to worry about him. I drive him to school every day, only two miles. There is no way I could drive him to Lisbon every day," she said.
Buchanan and Barbara Santini, whose son was originally at the central location before she chose to move him to Calcutta, didn't agree with Superintendent Bill Devon's rationale that the closure would result in a savings of $400,000.
"Is where this money gets transferred to more important than EDI South?" Buchanan asked.
Devon and the board have not stated how the money would be allocated, only that it is a taxpayer savings.
The superintendent reiterated the decision was made because of declining enrollment at the facility, which was at 66 clients to date, 18 of which have already been moved to central.
"We are being proactive and planning ahead," he said, explaining the board was not "forced" to close the facility. "Just because we have money in the bank doesn't mean we need to spend it now."
Lynn Powell, president of the Columbiana County Developmental Disabilities Employees Association, spoke briefly on behalf of the union.
"In light of future changes coming to our program ... keep loss of bargaining unit members to a minimum. We are going to and will continue treating clients with compassion and care," she said.
Devon said all care givers at EDI South will move with their clients, and any reductions in staff would likely not be at the that location since nearly all have seniority.
That care givers will move with clients should reduce some stress for clients, he believes, although parents were still concerned the stress of the move would be too much, since those with developmental disabilities are more sensitive to changes in their routine.
"As a parent of a young man who attends EDI South I would like you to understand that this abrupt announcement has created a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety for my son and family," Bussard said. "It wasn't until I read the Monday edition of the Morning Journal did I learn that this has been a plan for two years in the making. I would like to know why individuals, parents, guardians, and other stakeholder groups were not included in this process."
She added it doesn't make sense to move clients from the Calcutta location - where they have access to their community services and natural supports - to Lisbon, which is "situated in the middle of nowhere."
Becky Ammon, a staff member at EDI South said she wished to go on the record saying she had no involvement in organizing the group opposed to the closure.
"They haven't called upon me for help, nor do they need to. This is contrary to what I have been hearing in the community. People tell me that the superintendent has been saying that I am stirring up trouble and getting the families upset. He has gravely underestimated our families. They live this concern every day and when it affects their family member with a disability it is their voice we need to hear," she said.
She added closure of a facility and restructuring was not included in the program's strategic plan, and noted that plan is only available to the public by request. Because of the lack of that inclusion she questioned how "well thought out the plan really is."
She then read the board's mission statement aloud, indicating it is not being adhered to. That statement is, "Collaborating with the community to maintain a predictable support system for families, caregivers and individuals with disabilities to help them pursue and achieve what is important to them."
The public was only allowed five minutes to comment during the meeting and was not allowed to ask any questions of the board, a restriction they were not aware of until right before the public portion.
Devon did not weigh in on the board's decision to allay the closure through the end of the next school year.
The motion made by Parkes and supported unanimously by the board was met with applause by those in the audience, 90 percent of whom were wearing red and white "Save Our South" T-shirts.
"I think this gives options to work out plans and alternatives," board member Steve Beadnell said.
Devon had said earlier in the meeting the only other option previously on the table was privatization of the Calcutta facility.