The Newton Community School District board will consider hiring an additional five paraprofessionals to meet the needs of special education students in the district at its Monday meeting. After meeting with special education teachers and administrators during a work session on Sept. 25, teachers delivered a clear message to the board — they need more help.
During the work session, teachers told the board they needed extra help to close the gap between special education students and their peers. Berg Middle School special education teacher Lucinda Sinclair said the paraprofessionals in the district are working as hard as they can, but they need additional help.
“Our paras are working their tails off, there’s no time in their day,” Sinclair said. “We’re trying the best that we can, but we’re still short, we need help.”
After meeting with principals from each school in the district Superintendent Bob Callaghan said administrators believe the district needs to add five additional paraprofessionals. Under the proposal, the district would add two new employees at Berg Middle School, and one each at Emerson Hough, Thomas Jefferson and Aurora Heights. The average salary for a paraprofessional is $13.51 an hour and all of the positions would be part-time, with a schedule of 27.5 hours per week. The proposal would cost the district approximately $75,000 and would increase the budget shortfall in special education to a projected $389,000.
District officials will also present an alternate plan to the board to increase the hours of existing paraprofessionals from 27.5 hours to 30 hours a week. Currently, there are 68 paraprofessionals in the district, and 53 of them are part-time employees. Increasing the hours of existing employees would generate an additional 79.5 hours per week, as opposed to hiring five more paraprofessionals, which would give administrators an additional 137 hours. The cost of this proposal is $50,000, a smaller hit against the district’s overloaded special education budget. Callaghan said principals favor adding more staff instead of increasing the workload of current employees.
“The principals feel that they need it, they’re the ones that make the decisions in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings,” Callaghan said.
District administrators are reluctant to increase the workload of part-time staff members over 30 hours a week because that’s the threshold where the Affordable Care Act would require the district to provide health care benefits, which would cost the district an additional $8,200 annually per employee.
“Thirty hours is the magic number,” Callaghan said.
Working within the confines of the budget is a concern for Callaghan. When district administrators presented the budget to the board in April of 2017, Callaghan said expenditures and revenue were exactly balanced. Adding more staff members will tip the budget into the red, which will require the district to draw on its $1.1 million fund balance.
“Our budget was so tight that I didn’t recommend to the board any kind of salary increase for administrators,” Callaghan said.
Board members will also consider on Monday night whether or not to offer an early retirement incentive to district employees. The last time early retirement was available was during the 2013-14 school year, and Callaghan said since the district didn’t tax to cover the cost of the program this year he feels it’s unlikely to be approved. Callaghan said he’s been approached by several teachers about the program.
“We have some that are ready, I’ve already had teachers ask me if we’re going to offer it,” Callaghan said.
Under the early retirement plan, teachers over the age of 55 with 10 years of service in the district are eligible to take advantage of the plan. Those eligible under the plan would receive a payout of 25 percent of their base salary. During the 2013-14 school year, 10 employees in the district took advantage of the plan, four teachers and six associates. All of the employees who participated were already eligible for retirement. The current retirement matrix requires teachers to reach a score of 88 or higher, which is calculated by the teacher’s age, combined with the number of years the teacher has worked.
Encouraging older teachers to retire helps the district keep costs down and provides opportunities for younger teachers, but Callaghan said there’s no replacement for the experience older teachers provide.
“It’s really a benefit to students, that experience is hard to replace,” Callaghan said. “You have to weigh the loss against the benefit they provide to the students.”
Board members will also consider a proposal to purchase of a new truck for the district. If approved, the vehicle, a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4X4 Crew Cab would be purchased from Karl Chevrolet for a sales price of $30,115.90. Callaghan said the truck would join the school’s maintenance department fleet, and would be used by Maintenance Supervisor Jack Suttek to plow snow during the winter.
“We’ve got to have good equipment when we’re out there cleaning up after 8-inch snows, and Jack pushes as much snow as anyone,” Callaghan said.
If the board moves forward with the purchase the district will outfit the truck with an existing plow blade, and will likely sell the oldest truck in their fleet via the website www.govdeals.com Callaghan said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org