Schools eye adding special services staff

BAR HARBOR — The idea of creating a new staff position in the special services department of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) is being considered by Superintendent Howard Colter and other administrators.

The department provides special education, social work, psychological counseling and occupational therapy for students in the district’s nine schools.

Kelley Sanborn, who is in her 15th year as director of special services, returned to the job June 22 after being on medical leave for nearly four months. Last November, the MDIRSS board turned down her request for a one-year sabbatical.

“The relentless nature of what this work entails is the reason I would like to be pro-active and take a break before I need a medical leave,” she told the board at the time.

On June 22, the day Sanborn returned to work, Colter told the MDIRSS board, “I think it could be necessary to hire additional staff to support us.”

But he said the school system’s budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, does not include funds for a new position.

At Colter’s request, the board voted to encumber up to $25,000 in anticipated unused funds from the 2014-2015 budget for possible use in the new budget year. Encumbering the funds means that “if we feel that we do need more staffing, at least we will have a starting point,” Colter said.

He and MDIRSS business manager Nancy Thurlow estimate that salary and benefits for a new, half-time special services staff member would total about $50,000.

“So this [encumbered amount] would be a good part of a half-time position and obviously a smaller part of a full-time position,” Colter said.

He said the individual schools in the system could be asked to share the portion of the cost of any new position that isn’t covered by the “up to $25,000” that the MDIRSS board had encumbered for that purpose.

However, because the MDIRSS is not allowed to spend more than it has budgeted for this fiscal year, any new staff member technically could not be a school system employee. Colter laid out one possible solution for the school board.

“Let’s pretend there’s one person employed in one of the schools in special education full time, and we need that person full time or half time at the [district level],” he said. “We could ask the school that employs that person to let us borrow some or all of that person within their budget. Then all of the schools would pay their share of the services provided as if it were an [MDIRSS] position.”

Of course, each of the schools would be required to stay within their own voter-approved budgets for this fiscal year, so they would need to take some funds that had been earmarked for other purposes to help pay for the new special services staff member.

Colter said in an email to the Islander on Tuesday that he, Sanborn and other administrators are still discussing the special services staffing needs. But he added, “I would like to have someone hired by fall, assuming we have nailed down the job description and have school board approval to advertise.

“It may not happen, but for now this is a serious consideration, in large part to assure adequate central office administration is on deck when the 2015-16 [school year] begins.”

Melissa Beckwich, director of special education, filled in as director of special services while Sanborn was on medical leave. She was assisted by former Trenton Elementary School principal Dianne Waters, who came out of retirement to help out. Colter said both of them had done an “admirable” job.

“Melissa was really doing a job and a half these last several months, and it’s been taxing for her,” he told the school board. “I am incredibly impressed by the quality of her work and her willingness to help us get through this.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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