Aides air concern over changes in Hancock Schools

NEW CUMBERLAND — With budget cuts and transfers of personnel taking place, two county aides expressed concern over their positions during Monday’s Hancock County Board of Education meeting.

Kathy Markowitz and Tracy Barnhart approached the board and expressed dissatisfaction over hearing their job assignments were being changed and they had no opportunity to speak regarding the matter. Both are involved in the state’s Individualized Education Program, and both are trained in a variety of tasks related to assisting students with disabilities.

Markowitz first spoke about the change, to which she discussed working with a particular student when the student was at Oak Glen Middle School and now at Oak Glen High School.

She said her student’s IEP does not require a licensed practical nurse to handle the services, but stated that IEP plans to replace her position with an LPN, and added that she and her student were not invited to attend an IEP meeting held earlier in the day.

“For the first time in 20 years, today (Monday) I was not invited to the IEP meeting, nor was my student,” Markowitz said. “All services have remained the same on the IEP. It is to my knowledge that they are planning on an LPN to replace my duties.”

Markowitz said she had the opportunity to bid for the job in the past twice before, but declined. She also believed that replacing her with a LPN would affect the staff as well as the student who needs the assistance. She also said an LPN’s student is graduating and the need for an LPN wasn’t there anymore, and furthermore expressed her frustration over plans following the decision.

“I do not admire your decision,” Markowitz said. “I hope that you would consider my voice.”

Superintendent Kathy Kidder Wilkerson explained to Markowitz that the decision was that of IEP, not of Wilkerson or the board.

Markowitz also said an LPN cannot perform the duties of an aide, per state law, but Wilkerson stated that by serving in the county, the principal can reserve the right to place personnel where needed.

“Even though you were assigned to work with one student, you are going by the special ed department so you can be placed anywhere the principal needs you,” Wilkerson said. “So when you are saying that an LPN cannot replace you, that’s true but that means I can’t RIF (reduction-in-force) you and put an LPN in its place.”

Barnhart, meanwhile, attested to Markowitz’s statements, and added that her student for whom she’s caring also doesn’t need any extra care, and added that she also wasn’t invited to Monday’s IEP meeting.

“The need for the LPN aide at my school is no longer there. Her student is graduating,” Barnhart said. “If they feel that they want one in the building for some reason, then it needs to be done through the proper procedure if you posted one among the LPN aides in the county that might wish to bid on that job.”

Barnhart said, according to an attorney, that she would also have to re-bid for her position because another employee in the county would be accepted.

Coincidentally, Barnhart was among those on a list of transfers that were recommended by Wilkerson and presented to the board to which the new position would be undetermined. Later in the night, during the vote for the recommended list of transfers and RIF, Barnhart’s name was scratched from the list, with the other names instead approved for transfer.

As for Markowitz’s situation, Wilkerson wrote down the information and will forward the matter to Special Education Director Erica Sauer.

(Rappach can be contacted at srappach@reviewonline.com)

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