Graham board considers special education staffing

By Casey S. Elliott -

ST. PARIS – Graham Local Schools board officials learned more about special education staffing, with an eye to potentially hiring staff instead of contracting for it.

The school board discussed the issue at its Monday board meeting.

The school board approved its annual agreement for special education services with the Madison-Champaign Educational Service Center (ESC) for next school year at its May board meeting. But board members questioned the $592,159.13 price tag, wondering if it was more economical to hire those staff members into the district instead of contract for services.

The school district has 323 students, which include preschool age – identified as needing some kind of special instruction in the 2015-16 school year – Director of Special Education Emily Smith said. The district currently has one full-time staff member handle speech and language therapy and one full-time school psychologist employed for special education services.

The district contracts with the ESC for one full-time speech and language pathologist, two part-time speech and language pathologists, one full-time occupational therapist, one part-time occupational therapist, one part-time physical therapist, one adapted physical education staff member for one day a week, one staff member for audiology services as needed, one staff member for vision services as needed, additional contracted psychology hours through the ESC split by two people, and as-needed behavioral supports. The district also works with other agencies for alternative placements for students, whether it is at Mac-A-Cheek (run by the ESC), or Pressley Ridge School for the Deaf, Smith said.

School Board President Steve Setty asked if it has been determined that if the district needs another staff member in speech and language pathology, if it could be done for the upcoming school year, to reduce costs paid out to the ESC.

“If we feel we have to have full-time employees, maybe it would make sense to have them at Graham,” he said.

Smith said it might be difficult to get some of these specialized individuals to work for the district in time for the start of the school year in August, especially since they are in high demand.

“If we are not able to compete with what the ESC can offer in terms of salary and benefits, then we’re going to lose those people. We have to be prepared for that,” she said.

Treasurer Judy Geers and Interim Superintendent Matt Curtis also added the school board had approved next year’s ESC contract last month. The staffing changes may not be able to be addressed until the next school year.

Setty said he was not pleased with signing the agreement without having this discussion beforehand.

“We didn’t do a full investigation on if this makes sense,” he said. “We as a board should not have signed it, without having the detailed conversation we are having now.”

Curtis said the ESC has been willing to work with the district in the past about staffing adjustments as the district’s needs change throughout the year, and he thinks that should be done with this as well.

The board did not take any action regarding the previously-approved ESC contract at the board meeting.

Setty also asked about extended days for some staff members, which included guidance counselors, literacy coaches and the psychologist. He asked if these additional days are also requested by teachers to prepare for classes over the summer.

Curtis said teachers rarely request those additional days. The guidance office and other staff members use the additional days in summer to issue transcripts, for example. The psychologist works with assessing students for special needs in the special education program. Other staff prepare the work study program, which links students with employers in the area, and the literacy coaches use it to prepare professional development and the “book room,” so that all is ready to go once school starts. High school staff also use the time for College Credit Plus preparation requirements.

Extended days are days staff are working on site in their offices, Curtis added.

“My questions are just to make sure all these fit with our strategic planning going forward,” Setty said. The board and district have been conducting strategic planning over the past few months to outline goals for the future.

By Casey S. Elliott

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.

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