Marion County Special Education Cooperative has been in transition since losing its longtime director, David Shepherd, three years ago.
Ron Traxson came out of retirement as a school administrator to take over the helm on an interim basis in December. He had retired as Peabody-Burns superintendent in June.
“This has been very interesting after being a school administrator for 33 years,” Traxson said. “In this position, my eyes have been opened to many things. If I had done this and gone back to being a superintendent, I would have had a new perspective.”
He bemoaned the load of paperwork needed to follow federal guidelines. It takes away from time spent with students, he said.
Keeping enough teachers and staff, including paraeducators, is a challenge. The cooperative’s board will be asked during teacher negotiations to raise pay for paras, who get $.65 less than $11 an hour. Businesses that pay more are drawing them away.
The coop is short six or seven paras, Traxson said. Next year, it also will need four teachers, a speech pathologist, and a facilitator for gifted students.
“There are no candidates out there,” he said.
Some school districts have used federal stimulus money to hire more staff to deal with COVID, but now they will have to determine how or whether to continue those positions, Traxson said.
He sees the main problem as lack of full funding from the legislature. Special education was supposed to be funded at 92%, but it stands at 76% for 2021-22.
If the state does not provide more money, each school district will have to contribute more, Traxson said.
His service will end in June. He’s not interested in pursuing the job further. He expects the board, which contains one member from each Marion County school district, to hire an interim director for a year while looking for a permanent director.
His goal is to provide a pathway for the incoming interim director to follow.
“The coop is in good shape right now,” he said. “I feel pretty good about where we are at.”