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‘Friendly lawsuit’ helps local workshops

A “friendly lawsuit” filed against the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by six of the state’s sheltered workshops has brought a positive result for workshops statewide.

The Cole County Circuit Court ruled in early April that the workshops were correct in requesting that statutory procedures be followed in funding from DESE. Judge Richard Callahan especially noted that the statute stipulated that DESE “shall pay” the funds, which are used to supplement the workshops’ earnings through various business services and products. The DESE funds represent an average of 17 percent of workshop revenues.

The action was originally brought by six workshops that sought to clarify a statutory requirement that impacts how workshops receive a state subsidy that assists them in their efforts to provide employment for people with developmental disabilities. A change instituted last year in the manner of paying these funds resulted in a lower and less predictable payment.

Workshop managers recognized several challenges facing DESE and the legislature, but asked that the statutory law be followed so that, among other things, they could plan effectively for the more than 7,500 Missouri workers with disabilities employed by workshops.

“We understand that appropriations are the responsibility of the legislature, but we felt that because of the statutes it should be paid in the manner outlined by the law,” noted Randy Hylton, a workshop director and member of the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers. “The biggest issue for most workshops is that we need a consistent payment method so that we can budget for our programs.

“We felt the best way to determine the answer was to bring a friendly legal action to answer the question.”

Ginger Williams, general manager of the MCII Inc. Sheltered Workshop in Farmington, said they were very relieved and happy about the decision on this suit. 

“As with any business, when we prepare our budget to include a particular form of funding, we rely heavily upon that source of revenue to assist in covering our operating expenses,” she said. “The wording of our legislation is precise and very clear, and it is extremely gratifying to know there is a judge who will ensure that things run accordingly.”

The six workshops that filed the action last fall are Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises, Columbia; Valley Industries, Hazelwood; Harrison County Sheltered Workshop Association, Bethany; Lake Area Industries, Inc., Camdenton; Sheltered Industries of the Meramec Valley Inc., Sullivan; and Vocational Services, Inc., Liberty.

Missouri’s sheltered workshops derive most of their income from contract labor for business services such as packaging, original products and services. However, the state funds provide a key support to help workshops provide supervision and training for their workers with developmental disabilities while remaining competitive with their business services.

Although all workshops utilize the support to help remain competitive while working with employees with disabilities, the state funds are especially critical for smaller workshops and those in some of Missouri’s more rural areas where business contracts are often more difficult to find.

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