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Education committee agrees to additional hiring

WORTHINGTON -- Staffing changes, uncertain state funding and curriculum shifts occupied most of the discussion at the District 518 Board of Education Instructional Committee Monday.

The committee agreed to recommend the Board of Education hire an additional special education teacher to work in the autism program next year, and to change programming for those students.

"Next year we have a very large early childhood special education group coming into our kindergarten -- 28 students," said Josh Noble, principal at Prairie Elementary. "We need to change the way we're doing the programming."

Currently, the 16 students in the autism programming track have a single teacher and nine paraprofessionals, but of the 28 special education students who will enter kindergarten next year, five or six of them will likely join the autism programming track.

If Prairie continues its current programming, it would require the hiring of three additional paraprofessionals, which would cost the district approximately $64,000 a year. Hiring an additional teacher would cost approximately $50,000 a year, not including benefits.

It would also mean teachers could spend more time working actively with autistic students rather than spending so much time assessing students. Should the district hire three paraprofessionals rather than a teacher, the sole teacher would likely end up assessing kids all year long, Noble said.

"We're either doing a better job of identifying (autistic) kids early on, or there's just more needs that are surfacing," said John Landgaard, District 518 superintendent.

Federal special education funding will pay for about half of the position, which will likely be taken by an existing special education teacher, whose empty place will then need to be filled.

The committee will also recommend to the board that two Spanish teaching positions with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative be cut, which will save the NCIC approximately $100,000.

"(The teaching positions) have been part of that program for a long time, but with the change in funding, as well as the direction of the goals, those two positions may not receive any funding, and until the legislature's done, we're not sure," Landgaard said. "In order to protect those funds, we're going to have to non-renew, and put those reductions in place."

The committee also discussed the purchasing of new social studies curriculum materials.

Because the state standards in social studies are changing this year, and the final draft of the standards is not complete, the school will likely hold off purchasing social studies materials for Worthington Middle School until next year.

The shift in state standards affects the middle school more than the elementary or high school levels, so elementary and high school curriculum materials will likely be purchased on schedule this year.

Curriculum alignment with state standards doesn't have to be complete until 2013-2014, but it will take the school one or two years to implement, said Jeff Luke, WMS principal.