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Employees speak out against Deaf and Blind school

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Marla Pisciotta, Cumberland Times-News   

ROMNEY, W.Va. — Eleven child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind are upset, saying their jobs are in jeopardy due to their education.

A mandatory meeting was called this week by superintendent Lynn Boyer.

The child care workers, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were under the impression that the meeting was to get input regarding changes on the campus.

“We’ve been told all along that no one would be losing their job,” said one worker.

“Then when we went in to the meeting we were told after 2015 there would be no child care workers.”

The current child care worker position would be phased out on July 1, 2015, and replaced with the position of residential care specialist, according to paperwork handed out at the meeting.

The replacement jobs will require an associate degree in child development, psychology, social work or related fields, or an employee’s written intention to acquire the degree within three years of being hired.

According to the workers, Boyer said existing child care workers can apply for the new position. They can start taking courses beginning this summer or write their intention to get the degree after being offered a new job.

Many of the workers say they either can’t afford to take college classes or are too old and don’t feel they could handle going to school again.

Some say they will look into the classes.

“Even if we get a degree, from what we’re told if someone comes in off the street that is blind or deaf they will get the job over us,” a worker said.

Concern for the feelings of the children and length of tenure is also an issue with the workers.

“I don’t know what burns me up the most — losing my job or the suffering of the kids losing people that have cared for them so long,” another worker said.

“This is the most disgusted I’ve been with this school in all the 18 years I’ve been here.”

Other workers said they had been blindsided and lied to. Several have called the union to see what could be done and some say they will have to leave their job and move away from Romney.

Other workers say because of their age they will have to retire.

The workers were given a copy of the new job description that includes a list of general responsibilities, qualifications, functions and duties.

The recommendation to change from child care worker to residential care specialist will be going before the West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday.

Boyer said the focus is to improve the quality of the total experience the student has at the schools.

“We focus on improving the educational process of the children in addition to ensuring they are safe and secure,” Boyer said.

“What we are asking of the persons in these new positions is to bring a higher level of knowledge and skills in literacy and math, and a greater understanding of child development, behavior management, impact of deafness or visual impairment on learning and social development, and communication among others.”

Boyer said Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College has developed classes that would take four semesters to complete and would begin this summer.

“Each of the new positions will get approximately an $8,000 increase from where the child care workers are being paid now,” she said.

“This salary will be applied immediately upon hire. An employee would not have to wait until the degree is completed. The 60-hour program at Eastern is $4,300, but many staff already have course credits which will reduce that cost over time.”

Boyer said Eastern is working on ways to help with tuition and books.

“Experience to date will always have an impact on hiring,” she said. “The work the child care workers have done has not been done for nothing. What they have learned and done in the past will help them when they apply for the job.”

Boyer said because of changes at the campus enrollment is up 20 percent.

“Because of our emphasis on improving education experience of the children, we began to extend instruction into the residential program,” Boyer said.

Boyer said children come to WVSDB behind. “We have to work at every opportunity to progress.

“We need a skill set in our residential staff that is not necessarily present there now, but we are willing to work over the next three years to make that happen.”

 The state board of education will meet Wednesday where a discussion regarding the change is already on its agenda.

Another WVSDB issue on the agenda is the 2012-2022 comprehensive educational facilities plan.

Boyer said recently the state legislature chose to transfer WVSDB’s request for $8.4 million to the School Building Authority.

“We are resolving that the SBA will fully fund the proposal,” the resolution said.

The first phase of the proposal is $21 million, which includes construction of the residential cottages on campus and a student center that includes a cafeteria, infirmary, media center and offices for occupational therapists, audiologists and physical therapists.