Physical therapist to join superintendent’s staff

The All-Island School Committee (AISC) has agreed to add a physical therapist to school superintendent James Weiss’s office staff. The committee approved Mr. Weiss’s recommendation at a meeting on May 20 at the regional high school. The committee met in executive session first to discuss contract negotiations.

Mr. Weiss estimated Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools would save at least $20,000 and as much as $25,000 in fiscal 2011 (FY11) by hiring a physical therapist as an employee, rather than contracting for physical therapy services at an hourly rate.

Currently, two private contractors provide physical therapy to special education students, either individually or in groups, in all the public schools. Mr. Weiss estimated the cost will total about $126,565 by the end of this school year.

Although Island schools have a budget line item for Chapter 766 special education services, under the contracted services arrangement, it is difficult for principals to plan for physical therapy expenses, which fluctuate from month to month.

The cost of a physical therapist on Mr. Weiss’s office staff would be allocated under his shared services budget, giving school administrators a fixed cost per month.

His staff currently includes positions for speech, language, and occupational therapists.

Hiring one physical therapist at the M13 level would cost $79,339 annually. The position would be included in the teacher bargaining unit. Should the new employee require a family benefits package, the total would be $95,161, Mr. Weiss said.

Daniel Seklecki, director of student support services, said the number of students receiving physical therapy services grew from nine to 30 over the last 12 years.

Based on the needs of students currently receiving services and new ones expected next year, Mr. Seklecki said he believed one physical therapist on staff would be capable of handling the caseload on a teacher’s schedule.

School committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury disputed the potential cost savings, which he said might be reduced by other incidental expenses such as the cost of a substitute, mileage, unemployment insurance and possibly retirement benefits.

AISC members, with the exception of Mr. Manter, voted to approve Mr. Weiss’s proposal for the FY11 school year.

Mr. Weiss said he and Mr. Seklecki would watch the numbers closely and be prepared to move back to contracted services if the number of students requiring physical therapy services changes significantly in upcoming school years.

Independent contractor Molly Chavtal currently provides the majority of physical therapy services.

“It is our intent to advertise the position and get the very best candidate,” Mr. Weiss wrote in response to an email from The Times. “We do have a contractor [Ms. Chavtal] at present who would be exceptional, but she needs to decide if she wants to make the change.”

Although Ms. Chavtal would lose income in going from being an independent contractor to a salaried employee, Mr. Weiss pointed out that some of her other expenses such as insurance, training, and taxes would decrease.

In other business, Mr. Weiss and the AISC discussed his goals for FY11 and narrowed them down to six. The committee will vote on the goals at the next meeting on June 24, 7 pm, in the regional high school’s library conference room.