Bartow School Board members at next Monday's business session will consider approving the renewal of contracts to service providers that supply speech/language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and/or sign language interpreters to the district's schools. Exceptional Education Director Scott Smith said recruiting such workers, many of whom come out of medical school, has been difficult due to more lucrative work opportunities outside education.
"Most of the preparatory schools for these particular disciplines are very anti-school system a lot of times. The University of Georgia, for example, will tell their graduates 'Don't go work for school systems, you can make more money in the clinical field,'" Smith said. "So we're victims of a market that jacks up the prices, because insurance companies, things like that, will pay much higher rates than school systems. But we've worked very hard and we're constantly trying to recruit people to become employees."
Superintendent John Harper said Smith has had some luck in recruiting, which will save the district some funds in the next fiscal year.
"We've contracted out a lot of these services ... however, Dr. Smith for next year has been able to employ a number of people to significantly reduce the amount of money that we're spending on contracted services, to the tune of about $500,000 to $600,000," Harper said. "If we could hire more people to take care of these areas and find them, it would be suitable for us and we would continue to reduce that amount, because when you look at the hourly rates for some of these, they're quite exorbitant."
Board members also will consider awarding and extending a total of seven bids for foods and kitchen supplies for the district's School Nutrition Service department, with the extended bids representing no increases in prices for the next year.
School Nutrition Director Karen Mathis said most food products go straight to the schools, which reduces the costs needed to transport items to the cafeterias across the county.
"Produce, purchased food, bread, milk, all those things are direct delivered to the schools," Mathis said. "What we're getting in our warehouse is all of our paper and all of our commodity items, brown-box items from the federal government, as well as commodities that we send to processors, like chicken that we turn into nuggets, and then they come back to us and they're in our warehouse."
A class size waiver resolution for the upcoming school year will be considered by board members, but Harper said the waiver does not represent an intention to increase class sizes.
"This year, we were allowed to increase our enrollment numbers by about two per class. We're choosing next year not to do that, or in the future -- to remain at that number," he said. "My desire, as well as the rest of the team's desire, is that we don't move beyond that. However, we know that if it moves to three in one class, we don't need to run out and hire another teacher to take care of that one person.
"This is the regulation from the state that shows that we can move beyond that if we wanted to, but our goal and aim is not to do that."
Also receiving consideration will be the final readings of policy changes governing field trips and special uses of school buses. If the changes earn approval from the board, the district's schools will be required to foot the bill for most field trips.
Board members last month moved to waive per-mile charges for local trips, citing several Bartow County destinations with educational ties and the potential positive fiscal impact on the community. The amended policies would not limit the ability for a school to take a field trip if they choose to incur the associated charges, but would see out-of-county trips' per-mile cost raised from 75 cents to $2. Schools also would have to cover driver pay.
The policy changes were proposed as the district attempts to cut expenses amid drops in local and state funding.
"We knew we had to do something there in our current revenue status, be able to change some of that and pass some of those costs on," Harper said.
The board will meet Monday at 6 p.m. in the central office boardroom.