As Services Leap 40%, Public Told,
‘Litigious Environment’ Requires It
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – With 14 percent of Cooperstown Central students in special-education programs, up from 10 percent a handful of years ago, the school board this evening created a new administrative position: “director of pupil services.”
With the complexity of the services growing, and the “litigious environment” – parents suing who are dissatisfied with the level of service – even school districts Cooperstown’s size (831 in K-12, it was reported this evening) are creating such jobs, Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw told his board.
Veteran school board member Tony Scalici wondered where the public has been sufficiently prepared for the hiring of a new high-level executive, and possibly an expensive one. Crankshaw and board President Tim Hayes had mentioned no salary range.
Without engaging Scalici, the board then approved the new position unanimously, and Hayes said salary will become public when the ads are placed for the new administrator.
As it happened, given the discussion of parent concern about services provided, a mother addressed the school board during the public comment section: “My child’s needs … are not being met and the special-education system is not being followed as NYS Department of Education requires.”
Her child has been diagnosed with SM, Selective Mutism, a social-communication anxiety disorder: The child speaks in comfortable situations – at home, for instance – but not in uncomfortable situations, such as school, she said.
“It is not a choice, but a physical response in which the child cannot speak,” she said. “Most children with SM want to speak, including my child.” She went on the detail specifically where she views the CCS program falling short.
For instance, “The school is providing information to administrators and the BOE that misrepresents CSE meetings and reports information that is inaccurate and portraying my child’s needs counter to what is said by team members at the meeting.” (A CSE is a multi-disciplinary Committee on Special Education.)
Due to board policy, as explicated by Hayes, school board members do not answer questions from the audience, and either he or Crankshaw would get back to the mother.
On the new hire, “I do think this will be tough search – a mid-year search,” Crankshaw told the board. “We will need to be diligent.”
The financial piece of the new job was discussed to some degree, with Crankshaw saying, since the budget is in place, money will have to be found in existing lines to fund the new position. Some new teachers, for instance, have coverage elsewhere, and decline to accept the full benefits package. That can free up as much as $30,000, he said.
“We’ll have to adjust the budget from lines where we know we have savings,” he said.
Currently, the pupil services job is being handled by “a teacher on special assignment.” But “as needs become more complex, more specialized,” that isn’t sufficient. “Compliance” with guidelines, he said later, is becoming more essential.
Asked about the salary at during the public comment section at the end of the meeting, Hayes merely said “there was no salary stated” when the motion was approved.
He referred questions to Crankshaw, who said the job will pay less than $100,000, and is not considered at the level of the two principals.
The board then went into executive session, it announced, to discuss personnel and litigation.
On another matter, the school board said it will hold a “public forum” in advance of its Oct. 2 meeting to brief the public on details of a $5 million capital project.