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USD 398 plans to hire current special ed teachers

USD 397 meeting with Central Kansas co-op today

Staff writer

The Kansas State Board of Education is scheduled to rule on USD 398’s request to leave the Marion County Special Education Cooperative April 13.

The Peabody-Burns school district must present a detailed plan to the Kansas Board of Education explaining how they would take care of their special education students — currently more than 60.

USD 398 Superintendent Rex Watson said the school district would become its own special education entity instead of joining another co-op like the Harvey or McPherson County cooperatives. USD 398 would hire its own staff and teachers. Peabody-Burns psychiatrist Katherine Young’s clientele would expand to include students currently under the wing of special education.

The district could not maintain the salaries of full-time physical and occupational therapists. Watson said that the district would contract those services through the Harvey County Cooperative.

As a special education provider, USD 398 would qualify to receive state categorical aid. The state provides $23,000 per full-time special education employee — according to Watson this is down from $28,000 in 2009 — and 40 percent of that total for paraprofessionals, which is $9,200.

The district’s first priority would be to hire the six interrelated teachers and the eight paras currently working in the three Peabody-Burns schools.

Steve Reiner is the special education teacher at Peabody-Burns High School and Joyce Eurit is the special education teacher for junior high students. Jane Weber, Melinda Harry, and Christine Neffert are interrelated teachers at Peabody-Burns Elementary School. Stacey Parks is the speech teacher for the three schools, and she also teaches at Goessel.

If the state allows USD 398 to leave the Marion County co-op and the co-op does not disband, these six teachers will have to choose between their current employer — which is the county co-op — and the students they work with on an everyday basis.

Watson said that if the teachers decide to stay with the Peabody-Burns school district the only part of their job that would change would be the signature on their pay check.

But, Watson added, he thinks the primary advantage to USD 398 becoming its own special education provider would be eliminating bureaucracy involved with the Marion County co-op. Watson would become the director of special education as well as performing his superintendent duties. The district chain of command — teacher, to principal, to superintendent, to board of education — would govern special education.

Watson said, at times, Peabody-Burns teachers and parents have differed in educational philosophy from the Marion County co-op.

“The co-op tries to do what’s best,” Watson said, “but we disagree with what action is best. It’s easier to make changes; the chain of command is much shorter. If a teacher has a complaint, they can go to the principal and make that happen very quickly.”

Watson said that although the co-op may end, cooperation between Marion County schools might not share the same fate.

“Superintendents and principals can easily get on the phone,” Waston said. “Partnerships and sharing can happen without having to support overhead. We’ve partnered with Marion for years on wrestling and baseball.”

USD 398 will have to provide funding support to special education staff and district administrators will take on a larger workload.

“If I can do a little more work, but save a program or save a teacher’s job, that’s OK,” he said. “Keeping teachers employed is well worth it.”

USD 397 Superintendent Jerri Kemble is meeting with the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education today at CKCIE’s main office in Salina.

Kemble will present information about Centre School District to the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education. The information includes the total student population, the number of economically disadvantaged students in the district, the number of special education students in the USD 397 district, a breakdown of all of those students’ specific needs, and Centre’s current contribution to the Marion County Special Education Co-op. Centre currently has 52 students in special education.

Although Kemble expects that the Central Kansas Co-op is wary of enlarging — it already provides services for 12 school districts — she was told that if CKCIE would expand, they would be interested in expanding to the south.

USD 487 Herington is already in the co-op. Kemble said that the Centre and Herington school districts have already worked together. CKCIE has made it apparent that the distance between the two schools would be ideal for CKCIE occupational and physical therapists and psychiatrist.

Kemble is unsure of what may happen to students in need of more specialized training currently being transported to Marion. Those students would most likely have to be bused to one of CKCE’s satellite offices, possibly Abilene.

CKCIE has also said they would attempt to hire the three special education teachers currently working for USD 397: Kim Smith at Centre Elementary School, Anne Collett at Centre Middle School, and Yvonne Burhoop at Centre High School.

Kemble said that CKCIE may negotiate down Smith’s, Collett’s, and Burhoop’s years of experience, forcing them to take a pay cut, but their salary schedule and insurance benefits would stay the same.

Smith expressed worry about a potential change.

“My initial feeling was shock and feeling of being left out of future plans. Because we are employees of the co-op, we are not employees of the school districts we serve. This leads to us feeling disconnected to the decisions being made.

“As a teacher, I am nervous about moving to a new cooperative. I am concerned about the services the children would be offered; what my position may include that is different from what I do now.

“I have worked in more than one special education Cooperative. MCSEC has been a great place to work for the past 11 years.”

Kemble has also contacted the Flint Hills Special Education Cooperative, based in Emporia, about Centre joining its cooperative.

Kemble said that she is hoping that the Marion County Special Education co-op can stay together, but she is preparing for the possibility that it could disband.

“We’ve gotten good services from them,” she said. “I just feel I have to continue and march on and look at other alternatives.”

In the event that Marion County Special Education Cooperative does collapse, USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker said that Marion is researching several special education solutions.

USD 411 Superintendent John Fast said that the Goesel Board of Education will talk about a possible plan for special education at their next meeting April 12.

Fast said that USD 411 first priority would be to come up with a solution to keep the Marion County Special Education Cooperative together.

“We’d like to see all of us stay together, try to work something out,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s what the five-member board (of special education) wants to do.”

USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble and the Hillsboro Board of Education discussed three possible options at their March 8 board meeting.

The first option would be for the five school districts — minus USD 398 — to work with the Marion Special Education Cooperative. The co-op would be forced to reduce budget and decrease costs, which Noble said would undoubtedly mean that co-op employees would be eliminated.

The second option would be a dissolution of the co-op, which would require a complete restructuring of the co-op administration.

“It would take more time than this particular year will allow,” Noble said.

The third option for Hillsboro would be for USD 410 to join the McPherson County Special Education Cooperative. Noble has started preliminary talks with the McPherson co-op leadership, but Noble specified that he would only consider this option if the Marion co-op disbanded.

Last modified March 25, 2010

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