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Menahga looks to hire another special educator

By Nick Longworth

Menahga school district’s student population has continued to grow over the past five years, currently reaching historically high enrollment numbers.

Enrollment records show the increase is indicative of Menahga’s residential growth rather than open enrollment numbers increasing. Further predictions also indicate that this student growth does not appear to be slowing, but instead continuing to increase over the next half decade.

Coupled along with this overall growth has been an increased need for special education assistance.

“We had anticipated growth for the school year, as we always do. But we got even more (students) than we anticipated for; some of that growth came from additional students in special education,” said Menahga superintendent Mary Klamm.

“As enrollment has grown we have increased the size of the music department, increased teachers and added additional class sections in the high school. But the special education was just starting to get to the point of need. Now with more students than we anticipated, there has been a greater workload than in the past,” Klamm said.

While assistance to other programs such as band and physical education have adapted to growth in recent years, the special education staff at Menahga has remained stagnant in their efforts to adapt.

After staffing eight special education teachers consistently for over the past decade, Menahga superintendent Mary Klamm sees now as the time to bring in additional help.

“We need to address the overload of work for special education teachers so that they can spend more time in the classroom,” Klamm said.

Menahga middle school special education teacher Brad Schultz agrees with Klamm’s assessment. Schultz has been teaching at Menahga for over a decade.

“With special education there is a need to do a lot of testing. When the student initially receives services we need to do an evaluation. Every three years we need to then re-evaluate each student, which requires a significant amount of testing. Then every year there is an annual IEP (individual education plan) in which we will write out individualized goals for every student; we write learning goals and/or behavior goals for every year,” said Schultz.

“This testing takes a significant amount of time; whether testing, observations in the classroom, scoring results, or writing up the results. It’s starting to take away from time in the classroom with the students, which is most important and should really be the main job. It really becomes two jobs in one: writing up tests and observations while also trying to write up a lesson plan and teach students,” Schultz said.

The large increase in paperwork with increased student enrollment, Klamm and Schultz contend, has resulted in a strain on teachers’ ability to properly prepare for and instruct lessons.

“(The state) wants to make sure that when (students) go through the process of applying for special education, that student’s do, indeed qualify for special education. We don’t want to qualify students who shouldn’t be in special education. But at the same time we need to catch the kids who need to be in special education; that requires a lot of testing, assessment, observation and then of course the necessary paper trail to determine that a student indeed either qualifies or does not qualify,” Klamm said.

“Most of the burden rests on teachers themselves because it is our responsibility to make sure all of this paperwork is done in a timely manner and done correctly. But at the same time we’re still trying to do daily lessons and prepare daily instructions,” Schultz said.

“Most of my test-scoring gets done during my preparation time rather than actually preparing for my lessons. More and more of our time is being devoted to paperwork. The state is adding more requirements every year as far as what the paperwork needs to look like and what needs to be done. If it’s not right, then you have to re-do it. Not just for our school, but throughout the entire state,” Schultz said.

On Minnesota’s Department of Education website, the standard IEP form consists of 10 pages. On the same site, 15 other forms are also available for teacher’s usage; all of which are more than two pages long.

After much consideration, both Klamm and Schultz agree an additional hire would be a benefit to everyone involved, students and faculty alike.

“Through some creative thinking we put some data together, took a look at some workloads and took a look at the time that teachers have spent with students, because some students take more time than others,” Klamm said.

“We then compared us to other district’s workloads, which helped us understand that we needed to bring in a little extra help for our teachers. The solution we came up with would be to bring in some “consulting” help with paperwork, which in turn will help the entire workload for our staff,” Klamm said.

The hired help would be brought onboard as an outside “consultant”, primarily used for legal paperwork purposes. Compensation would include 15 hours per week at $30 an hour, with a cap limit set at $12,600. The hired consultant would need to be a licensed special education professional through the state of Minnesota.

The pool of potential candidates isn’t exactly overwhelmingly large. However, Klamm feels that there are a few potential fits within the area still available.

“Currently there is a shortage of licensed special education teachers in Minnesota. So trying to find a full-time teacher this time of year would be just about impossible because everyone already has a fulltime job,” Klamm said.

“So we’re looking for someone retired and highly qualified, licensed, and with experience; there are a couple within the area that we are definitely considering,” Klamm said.

Klamm also warns to not expect immediate or drastic changes.

“Not everything is completely figured out yet. In the next week we are going to determine what kind of paperwork can be done by this consultant, what duties can be fulfilled and how much time it takes. We are hoping to create a model that we might be able to use in the future,” Klamm said.

Schultz insists the department is not trying to make their own jobs easier, delegating their work to others. They are aiming to improve the overall quality of attention students receive.

“Some of the paperwork in question can only be done by me; I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone else doing it because I am the one working with the child. But other stuff like the initial screenings and testing could just as easily be done by someone else,” Schultz said.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364