By Claire Walla
With the two-percent tax levy cap looming on the horizon, school districts across he state will be struggling to find ways of cutting costs, without sacrificing services. At a Sag Harbor School Board meeting last Monday, August 14, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols offered a plan he said would not only be cost-effective, it would increase the services the district provides.
Last year, the high school spent about $74,000 for transitional services for about 14 special needs students. But, according to District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, he and Nichols have begun talking about using that money instead to fund a new position at the school.
“From my perspective, spending $74,000 for transitional services for 14 or 15 students a year is pretty expensive,” Nichols commented at the meeting. Transitional services are mandated by the state for some special needs students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Once a student with such an IEP turns 15, the school is required to bring someone in to help that student get through the course work he or she needs to graduate, in addition to helping that student explore various options available to him or her post-graduation.
“Our thought is that we could not only do that, but we could bring [in a counselor with] other skills that would help the growing needs that we have,” Nichols explained.
The way he and Dr. Gratto have discussed it, that $74,000 can be channeled into a full-time position, bringing in a counselor who will be on the campus five days a week, instead of a part-time person who might only be at the school for two. The idea is in its preliminary stage, but Nichols said at this point he sees this as a $50-55,000 salary, which, plus benefits, would roughly equate to $74,000.
The person in this new position would serve two main needs of the school: helping with transitional services, and doing more outreach to parents and students who are part of the school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) community. This aspect is not required by the state. But Nichols said it’s crucial for the district — which currently has about 60 ESL students, 25 of them in the high school — to address the growing needs of the ESL community.
“Obviously the person we hire would have to be bilingual,” Nichols said. He also urged the school to hold-off on hiring someone until the right candidate — with a background in counseling and/or social work, plus Spanish language skills — is found.
The third aspect of this new position, Nichols continued, would involve hands-on experience for Pierson students who could serve as mentors for ESL or special needs students. To this, he added, “I think it would be preferable to hire this person in the spring, which would allow him or her to cultivate relationships with the people who would want to serve as mentors [beginning next fall, 2012].”