The temperature on Wednesday still felt like summer, but the start of school indicated that it’s coming to an end.

School officially began yesterday for both the Logansport and Pioneer districts, while Lewis-Cass starts Friday and Caston begins classes Tuesday.

With the 2019-2020 school season comes changes and also some shortages on staff members.

Despite the changes, “It was a great first day,” said Michele Starkey, superintendent for Logansport Community School Corporation.

Logansport students had to adapt to new times to start and end the day this year.

Columbia and Fairview elementary schools now run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., while Franklin and Landis elementary students attend classes from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Columbia Sixth Grad Academy and Logansport Junior High School students attend classes from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., while Logansport High School hours run from 8:35 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.

Safety first

Bus safety has been a top issue since the deadly crash last year that killed three students in Rochester.

Lewis-Cass School Corporation students who ride the school bus will no longer have to cross busy highways to get on their school bus.

“With the new law coming in, any place we had students crossing our highways, we had to create new turnarounds or they had to go clear around the country block, so to speak, and make those turn arounds and come back and drop them off so the exit side is towards the drive way,” said Lewis-Cass Superintendent Tim Garland.

Garland also said that the school is in the process of ordering new buses equipped with stop arm cameras.

“We run into so many near misses with drivers not stopping,” he said. “We called the police and looked at some videos. We had at least four or five that ran stop arms.”

Pioneer School Corporation Superintendent Charles Grable said his district reviewed routes and made sure no students need to cross major county roads or highways this year.

Logansport started that protocol last year and has cameras on the stop arms on the high traffic routes, Starkey said.

New this year, all 14 of the public school buildings in Cass County will be using the Raptor Technologies Emergency Management System and Visitor Management System, thanks to a grant from the Cass County Community Foundation. The visitor system does a background check on visitors who enter a building to provide instant screenings of them. Those screenings can find potential problems, such as custody issues or whether the visitor is on a sex offender registry.

The emergency system includes active incident management and parent-student reunification tools for use during incidents.

Staffing

Despite the good start for 2019-2020, getting a full staff has become more and more of a problem over the last few years, though.

Starkey said that Logansport started with the teachers it needed. Lewis-Cass is fully staffed with teachers but have experienced some changes. The district will have a high school science teacher retiring in December and has gained a new math teacher from Louisiana and a new special education aid coming from Kokomo, among other staff changes.

Pioneer has 10 new staff members for the year, including some in new positions. Jeff Brooke has moved up from the assistant principal of Pioneer Junior-Senior High School to the principal position.

“He did a great job as assistant principal,” said Grable. “He’s been a loyal Pioneer employee for a number of years and deserved this opportunity.”

Missy Shrontz moved from Technology Director to Brooke’s former position, and Garret Hoover will replace Shrontz in technology.

Pioneer is still looking for new instructional assistants at all schools and for substitute bus drivers.

The superintendents of Logansport, Lewis-Cass and Pioneer said that hiring has become more difficult in three areas: general teaching, English language learning and professional support staff for students with specials needs — including speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.

“It’s not like it used to be,” said Garland.

Before, the district could count on 10 to 20 applicants per teaching opening. Now they get two to five. It’s easier to hire for kindergarten through sixth grade because that usually requires a basic teaching degree. For fields at the high school level, like chemistry, biology and some math, “it’s a little more difficult to hire teachers when they’re specialized,” Garland said.

Teacher pay

For example, his own son, who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry, has no teacher training. Like many with desired degrees, his son could make a $70,000 starting salary in the private sector compared to $38,000 as a teacher, Garland said.

“It’s hard to compete with that. I don’t blame them,” said Garland.

Industrial technology teachers are also few and far between, he said.

The teacher pool is getting shallow, Starkey said in July.

“We’re in a pretty good shape right now, but it’s a continual struggle,” she said back then.

Part of it is pay. It’s also a lack of respect from the state and federal government, she added.

Her district tries to make teachers feel they’re in a positive, stable environment where they are supported and can get guidance, she said.

Grable said, “It’s getting tougher for small schools, especially at the secondary level.”

He thinks the shortage comes from a number of factors, many going back to the days of then-Governor Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett, who made teaching less attractive to go into, Grable said.

Holding teachers’ salaries at a non-increase status and never catching them up to the cost of living was one part of it. So were the methods for teacher evaluation.

“People are aware of it now, and conversations are happening. We’re just not seeing the results,” Grable said.

Special needs

Special education became a new concern partly because the Logansport Area Joint Special Services Cooperative, which includes eight schools districts that pooled resources, ended the association as of July 1. Districts not only needed to find their own specialists, but they have to fight for the few certified therapists out there.

“There’s so much diversity among our students anymore in terms of the issues they have now,” said Starkey. “Because of our school population, we need a bilingual school psychologist.”

Most of the therapy positions require a Master of Science rather than just a Bachelor of Science degree.

Lewis Cass needed a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. Last year, they couldn’t find the occupational therapist. The district instead hired a web-based service where the therapist was off site but oversaw the work done on site, Garland said.

That can be done depending on student needs.

If more attention is needed, the school has to hire through a consulting firm, which costs about $25 an hour or more, at least doubling costs, he said.

Grable said it’s harder for the smaller districts, but they try to make positions desirable.

“You’ve got to keep your caseload reasonable,” he said.

Starkey said, “the advantage we have is the schedule and the work environment.”

Logansport doesn’t have a written cap on the number of cases a therapist handles but uses “best practices,” Starkey said.

“If someone’s caseload is too big, our students aren’t going to get the help they need. That’s not in anyone’s best interest,” she said.

Because Logansport is a bigger district, it has more languages that students speak — 26 different languages and distinct dialects. However, Logansport is training some teachers through continuing education to be certified in teaching English to non-native speakers.

Staff reporters Tyra Bahney and Quentin Blount contributed to this report.

Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at james.wolf@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5117

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