During the weeks preceding the election, many of the Madison County school board candidates echoed the same talking point – “being fiscally conservative,” “keeping an eye on the way we spend money” or “find out where the money’s going.”
At Thursday night’s board meeting, the 15-minute discussion surrounding a motion to approve an $8,940 salary schedule increase exemplified the board’s ongoing struggle to draw a line between being fiscally responsible and staying true to the district’s motto “Every student counts.”
In the end, the board decided to pass the recommendation, 5-0, but not until after a lengthy conversation.
The salary increase recommendation would attract a certified American Sign Language interpreter, legally required to meet the needs of a student with an IEP, or Individualized Education Program.
Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.
“The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities,” the website states. “The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.”
Since August, the district has been looking for a ASL-certified teacher, but the initially presented salary of $26,910 did not get any takers, said Dr. Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent in human resources.
“With the salary schedule presented, they (candidates) go home, talk to spouses, talk to family members, look at their life needs and I have had three declinations,” Hub said. “I’ve been in my position for ten years and we’ve never filled a position with as much difficulty as this. And the attorneys as high as the Kentucky Board of Interpreters are telling us that we just face too many liability issues if we do not meet the letter of the law that specifies that child’s IEP.”
The salary increase to $35,850 would be comparable to a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and with no experience, said Superintendent Tommy Floyd. “It would be the same if we had to hire a different skill.”
A Kentucky Board of Interpreter’s ASL-certified interpreter must also have a bachelor’s degree, he said.
Board member John Lackey wanted to know how the district had been in compliance so far.
Since August, local agencies provided a substitute interpreter, but no one permanent, Hub said. Although the district employs hearing impaired certified teachers, their job is to “provide direct student services, not to interpret.”
Board member Chris Hager asked the superintendent about the student’s grade level. All Floyd was permitted to say was “they are a very young, primary student.”
“The reason I ask is that if I were to put myself in the parent’s shoes, having a child that needed an interpreter, and they were always getting a different interpreter three days a week, I would want some kind of stability in my child’s life,” Hager said. “I understand it’s going to cost a little bit more money, but for me personally, I would want that stability in that child’s life.”
Lackey said the problem was not that there are not enough ASL interpreters, but “it’s just that they don’t want to take the job at the price.”
Board chair Mona Isaacs asked Hub if the interpreter would receive the same pay raises as teachers.
A salary schedule has not been assigned past the 2012-13 school year, Hub replied. The $35,850 salary for the 187-day position will be pro-rated for November to the end of the second semester, he said.
“I agree, it’s a lot of money,” Hager said. “Essentially, we have two teachers for one child … but like I said, we need some stability in this child’s life and it is something we have failed to do so far.”
Lackey wanted to discuss solutions to this sort of spending.
“You understand how we’re conflicted if everybody demanded an IEP. That’s $35,000 per student … where does it stop? What kind of controls do we have over providing one student one teacher? Is there any way to cut the costs?” asked Lackey. “The money that we’ve got that’s discretionary is all going to either the top five percent or the bottom 20 percent … the 65 to 75 percent of students in the middle are getting shortchanged ...”
At a recent board work session, Director of Special Education Debbie King gave a thorough explanation of the levels she and her team goes through to determine whether a child receives IEP services, Floyd explained.
“The meeting of good efficiency, yet meeting the needs of each IEP of each child is very important to us. It is a balancing act. It is one of those things that we spend a lot of time on and we trust the collaborative efforts of many when it comes to these topics,” he said.
Hiring a teacher for this one student “may be the case when we absolutely have to do it,” Lackey replied. “But it seems – if I can use the term – sort of a knee-jerk response. When somebody asks for an IEP and a special teacher, we say ‘okay, give it to them.’ Somewhere there’s got to be a stop.”
Board member Becky Coyle interjected.
“It’s from my understanding that when we have a child that has to have an IEP, we have to comply with this. It’s irrelevant whether it’s one or five,” Coyle said.
“I think Ms. King’s expertise in evaluating each of those children before they bring it to us, is something that we ought to trust,” said member Beth Brock. She then asked Hub if the proposed salary was comparable to other districts seeking the same position.
Hub said he had spoken only with state agencies. But during his tenure, there has only been a need for one ASL interpreter. That interpreter was employed by the district for 16 months and no longer has a license, he said. “So now we have this need. We’ve not been able to find anybody.”
Look in Sunday’s paper for the second story about Thursday’s school board meeting.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.