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Introduction

This section includes a diverse set of information related to hiring VI professionals. Included within this section is information in the following areas:

  • Supervising dually certified VI professionals
  • Suggestions for timing and important steps in hiring VI professionals
  • Finding a VI professional
  • The hiring process, including timelines
  • Using alternate pay scales for VI professionals as a tool for retention and recruitment
  • Advantages and disadvantages of various hiring options.

Reviewing the caseloads will assist in determining the need for a new and/or additional VI professional and the percent of the FTE needed. The next steps are to decide:

  1. which hiring options are most appropriate, and
  2. how to find the person(s).

Currently, there is a shortage of professionals with certification in the areas of visual impairments and/or orientation and mobility. Additionally, many VI professionals anticipate retiring within the next five years. Therefore, you will need to develop a strategy for locating, interviewing, and hiring these professionals. Before you advertise for a position, however, you may want to explore a variety of options.

There is a continuum of hiring options, each with advantages and disadvantages, depending on the district's needs. Each of the following options assumes that the district has performed a caseload analysis.

There are aspects of the VI and O&M itinerant model which are different from other instructional positions. These professionals travel from school to school or district to district, always working with multiple teams on each campus. In addition to teaching ability, other qualities contributing to success in an itinerant model include:

  • Interactive (or "people") skills for working within a team structure, including working with parents
  • Organizational skills for keeping materials, meetings, and records straight
  • Time management skills for completing a variety of tasks and in various locations
  • Diagnostic and report-writing skills
  • Self-motivation and self-discipline in a relatively unstructured position
  • Advanced technology skills
  • The desire and energy to work as an itinerant professional.

Special note about dual certification

VI teachers and O&M specialists belong to two different professions with two different sets of professional standards and practices. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that standards are not compromised when supervising/administering a dually certified professional. Many dually- certified professionals believe that students are at risk of receiving inadequate services in one area when both VI and O&M are provided by the same person.

Care must be taken to not misunderstand the impact of dual certification. A full caseload (e.g.,10 -12 students) in a single area typically includes students who need direct and/or consultive services. Consultation should be active and effective, following a transdisciplinary model. Should that teacher become dually certified AND function as both, then adjustments must be made to the professional's caseload. It is not reasonable for a VI teacher who has a full caseload to also have a .5 caseload in O&M. Active supervision and a caseload analysis are as critical for dually certified staff as for the single-certified VI professionals. A caseload for a dually certified professional who is providing both services may be six to ten students when providing both VI and O&M services, or eight to 12 students if some students receive VI and others receive O&M services.

Does it matter when I start the hiring process?

The first step is to conduct a caseload analysis (refer to Caseload Analysis Guidelines section). The caseload analysis should occur before the budget application in the spring. Typically student caseloads are fairly constant during the winter months beginning in November, making this a good time to analyze the range of student need. The information collected during the caseload analysis helps document the need for additional staff for the benefit of the superintendent or school board.

What are the important steps in hiring VI professionals?

With the shortage of applicants in the state of Texas, creative approaches in seeking potential applicants need to be employed.

  • The place to start is the district's or co-op/SSA's current pool of professionals. A person already working in your area may be certified as a VI professional and willing to change positions. That person may also be willing to work part-time as a VI teacher and part-time in another capacity.

    If this is the case, you and the VI professional will need to develop a professional growth plan to ensure updated skills in a rapidly changing field. As a recruitment tool, the new VI professional may appreciate the opportunity to develop networks critical to success in their new position. Professional development opportunities are available through ESCs, TSBVI, and other professional organizations.

  • Another option is to "grow your own" VI professional. Local teachers have already established a rapport with other professionals, and they are less likely to move away. When considering potential candidates for the certification process, use the list of desired qualities in the introduction of this section. Then review the Training Options Section to identify the most appropriate one for your circumstances.
  • The third common option is to seek a person who is certified, but not currently working for the district. When seeking new applicants, consider advertising in as many places as possible. Your options include advertising in the newspaper of the largest cities in your vicinity, contacting your ESC vision department for resumes of potential applicants, contacting the certification programs at Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin State Universities, and accessing listservs which are frequented by professionals across the nation. (Information about listservs is included in the Job Bank Section.) Your advertisements should include information about the community in addition to the job definition. It is difficult to anticipate what any one individual looks for in a job, but one factor that is studied closely by the itinerant applicant is the size and configuration of the caseload.

How can I find VI professionals?

Districts may face several challenges when recruiting VI professionals (VI teachers and O&M specialists). Although it is changing with the new distance education options, the fact remains that there are a limited number of certified VI professionals in Texas. Additionally, many experienced VI professionals are approaching retirement and will be leaving the field within the next five years. As a result, districts must be proactive when addressing their VI needs.

Before you look outside of your district, consider reviewing the district's certification records. It is quite possible that a teacher already has a VI teaching certification. If that is the case, discuss a possible reassignment with that person. Since that person has been away from the field, remember to discuss and develop a professional development plan with the new teacher. This may be an important part of your recruiting that person.

In brief, if no existing VI professionals are currently in your district, you have the following options:

Hiring an existing VI professional from another area or state

Use recruitment strategies including advertisement in local papers, statewide papers, and recruitment letters sent to places which train VI professionals.

The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) compiles a listing of all universities with a training program in visual impairments. A copy is included in the Training Options Section, or visit the AER web site.

A list of training programs by state is available in the National Directory of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, published by the American Foundation for the Blind. If a copy of this resource is not available in your district, contact the VI program at your ESC.

Training an existing staff person or "Growing Your Own"

  • District identifies a professional to be trained as a VI teacher or O&M professional.
  • Once accepted into a training program, VI training typically takes between 1? to 2 years to complete the course work and additional time completing the internship while on the job.
  • Desirable characteristics include:
    • interested in working as an itinerant
    • diagnostic and report-writing skills
    • good time management skills
    • excellent consultation/communication skills
    • outstanding problem solver
    • good self-starter
    • competent in technology
    • excellent team member.

Participating in a shared services arrangements (SSA) or special purpose co-op

  • Multiple districts agree to share services with a single fiscal agent.
  • An SSA may function as a co-op or as a purchase-of-services contract between districts.
  • The specifics are discussed and defined within the Financial Accounting and Reporting Module of the Financial Accountability System Resource (a.k.a. F.A.R.)
  • This arrangement allows a district:
    • to share professionals in specialized areas
    • be able to offer the benefits of full employment to the staff person
    • have the benefits of having a staff person in (or near) the district.
  • A shared service arrangement or purchase of services contract with another district might be a cost effective and efficient service delivery option for O&M services.

Should I hire a VI professional on a teacher's pay scale?

Frequently VI professionals hold a unique position in the district. They are perceived as the experts in visual impairments. Diagnosticians, supervisors, and directors turn to VI professionals for advice on issues involving the purchase of expensive pieces of equipment, diagnostic practices, and interpreting the results of assessments. For an assessment to be sensible, applicable, and valid, the VI teacher consults with the diagnostician on the type of modifications needed in any assessment regimen. This situation is not typical of other teachers in special education.

O&M specialists are currently paid $40 - $55 per hour for contractual work by other state agencies in Texas. Their training is highly specific and medically based, on a par with an occupational or physical therapist. O&M specialists are also classified as related service personnel.

Quality VI services are very demanding on VI professionals. They must provide direct services, actively consult with other staff members on several campuses, preview and modify curricula, evaluate students, provide guidance to diagnostic staff, and interact with other agencies and medical staff. Effective VI staff also maintain consistent, ongoing communications with parents.

Because of the assessment and community liaison responsibilities, and other conditions, some people with VI certification have chosen to in work educational positions which are perceived as being less demanding, or have increased compensation. As a result, their district has lost the expertise of that VI professional and has had to hire, and train, another person. While new training options have expanded learning opportunities, VI professionals are still hard to find, recruit, and train.

If, upon reflection, the VI staff's responsibilities and the 'consequence-of-error' are more consistent with diagnosticians, consider developing a plan to move them to that pay scale over the next couple of years. While VI professionals may cost the district more in the short run, in long run, the district benefits in terms of retention of VI staff.

What are my hiring options?

Districts have several hiring options, each having advantages and disadvantages. Each option can be appropriate at specific stages in a district/program. These listings were developed with significant input from special education directors and VI professionals. These hiring options are viable for all VI positions, including braillists and paraprofessionals.

Independent contractual

VI professionals are hired for a specific set of services, such as working with students and writing reports. The contract usually establishes an hourly rate. In Texas rates for VI professionals tend to range from $35 to $55 per hour (in FY 2000). Contractual services may be indicated if a district needs a VI professional less than 8 hours (or one working day) a week. In a contractual arrangement such as this, a district usually sends the contractor an IRS 1099 form.

Advantages

  • Staff will be available for the amount of services needed.
  • The district may not be responsible for paying if a student is ill or away for any reason.
  • The district's accounting process may be simplified because it is not responsible for any fringe or related benefits.
  • If the district is dissatisfied, it is easy to discontinue services.
  • Flexible, disability-specific expertise is available on a "just in time" basis.
  • Staff is available throughout the year with no down time.
  • Very limited purposes may make it easier to find and hire someone qualified.

Disadvantages

  • Staff may not have ownership of students or district; independent contractors may seem distant or not a member of the educational team.
  • The cost to the district will be higher than if the person is on staff (as in the remaining options).
  • The district will not have any control over the contractor's professional development. Since professional development costs contractors both in lost wages and the cost of the training, they may be hesitant to pursue it.
  • Staff may not be available for team responsibilities, assessments, or related meetings.
  • The district may have difficulty maintaining consistency of staff and programming.
  • It may be difficult to locate an individual willing to work for very limited purposes.
  • VI professionals may prefer to work in a position in which insurance benefits are available.
  • It may be difficult to access contractors when problems arise, parents need reassurance, or other team members need unexpected consultation/information.

Part-time district contract

A district may choose to hire a VI professional for a designated portion of the week, such as 2 days or 50% of a full-time-equivalent position. The VI professional works for the district as a standard employee, but not full-time. These individuals are paid at the standard rate for the district. The VI professional is not employed by the district or co-op/SSA for the remaining portion of the week. In a modified contractual arrangement such as this, a district usually sends the employee an IRS W-2 form.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district's staff with all that that entails: such as membership in the district's educational team(s) and knowledge of the district's systems, including purchasing, and professional development.
  • Part-timers provide increased availability for assessment and evaluation, cross-professional consultation, access to and by parents.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development.
  • The district may be able to offer a benefit package.
  • The district may be able to tap into a population of VI professionals who are not interested in full-time employment.
  • Services are available on a consistent basis all year long.
  • Consistency is likely to be increased between staff members throughout the year and from year to year.
  • Staff will not have to pay self-employment taxes.
  • This may be an intermediate step in a growing program.

Disadvantages

  • The district may be responsible for paying for the benefit package.
  • VI professionals may not be available to observe the students in various environments across the whole spectrum of the entire day.
  • Because VI professionals are likely to have additional part-time contracts, flexibility in their scheduling may be limited.

Split-time district contract

The district employs the VI professional full-time, but splits responsibilities between VI-specific responsibilities and other responsibilities. Districts with less than six students needing services from the VI teacher or O&M specialist and small districts with limited brailling responsibilities most commonly use this model. This model is also used for a second VI professional. This model does not include those VI professionals who are dual certified and function as VI teacher and O&M specialist. This model may include professionals employed in a shared services arrangement or a purchase of services agreement.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district's staff with all that that entails: such as membership in the district's educational team(s) and knowledge of the district's systems, including purchasing, and professional development.
  • The staff member has increased availability for ARD/IFSPs, assessment and evaluation, and team functions.
  • Staff will not have to pay self-employment taxes.
  • In a shared services arrangement, the VI professional may be able to adjust schedules to meet special situational needs, such as a parent conference, home visit, or evaluation.
  • The district has the potential to increased the VI services.

Disadvantages

  • Significant attention and support from the administrator is essential if this is to be done well. Quality VI programming requires flexibility to attend ARDs/IFSPs, assessments, parent meetings, team meetings, and to provide instruction in non-traditional environments and at non-traditional times. This flexibility may be challenging for a VI professional with other responsibilities.
  • VI professionals may not be available to observe the students in various environments across the whole spectrum of the entire day.
  • Assessment in a broad array of areas is essential to quality programming. This will require access to a variety of environments and other professionals (e.g., diagnosticians, parents, and other specialized district staff). Special administrative attention to ensure a quality assessment is required when the demands must be balanced with other demands of the job.
  • Quality VI programming includes attention to many disability-specific skills, such as social skills and adapted daily living skills. Sometimes a generic special education resource room simply includes a student with a visual impairment. Then the adaptations and variety of environments necessary to address the VI-specific needs of the child may not be addressed. The VI/generic certified teacher may resort to tutoring students in areas which could better be addressed by other professionals.
  • If the district is either the fiscal agent for a special purpose co-op or a participating member in a co-op or shared service arrangement, it must negotiate the share of the time that the VI professional will be available for services.

Full-time district contract - Single certification

A VI professional can be certified as a teacher of students with visual impairments or as an O&M specialist. The VI professional is employed full-time working with students with visual impairments.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district's staff with all that that entails: such as membership in the district's educational team(s) and knowledge of the district's systems, including purchasing, and professional development.
  • The staff member will develop a thorough understanding of the students' needs and strategies for integrating program resources.
  • Flexible instruction, assessment and evaluation, and teaming will be more likely.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development.
  • Staff will be able to act as a liaison with other related community agencies and organizations.
  • Staff will be available for consultation and assessment with other team members.

Disadvantages

  • The district will be responsible for all of the costs and responsibilities associated with full- time employees.
  • If the district is either the fiscal agent for a special purpose co-op or a participating member, it must negotiate each member's relative costs and responsibilities.

Full-time district contract - Dual certification

A VI professional who has both a VI and an O&M certificate is referred to as being "dually certified." This may be preferable if a district needs 1.5 FTE VI teachers and a .5 FTE time O&M specialist.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district's staff, with all that that entails.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development.
  • The dually certified professional offers some capacity for coordination between VI and O&M programming. However, this should not be assumed.

Disadvantages

  • It may be difficult to keep professional identity balanced. Staff may identify with one profession significantly more than the other. As a result, more time may be spent on one area and less time on the other than is indicated. Student progress may be severely inhibited in the area receiving less emphasis.
  • It may be difficult to recruit a dually certified VI professional into the district.
  • Many districts have discovered that it is not reasonable for staff to provide VI and O&M services to the same students without very active and informed supervision.

Special Purpose Co-op

A special purpose co-op is based on an agreement between special education programs to provide a specific service. The scope and responsibilities of those services are defined by the participating districts resulting in a very useful arrangement for small populations of students such as those with visual impairments. Districts may collaborate to hire a single full-time VI professional or to develop a more complete program with multiple staff members. Historically, this option has been underutilized, especially for O&M specialists. The specifics are discussed and defined within the Financial Accounting and Reporting Module of the Financial Accountability System Resource (a.k.a. F. A. R.)

Below is a partial list of advantages of this arrangement.

  • Flexibility from year to year and the ability to adjust to changes quickly, possibly without needing to change staff assignments
  • Flexibility when a VI professional is out for an extended, but limited, period, such as family leave or illness.
  • Shared costs of expensive equipment between districts, such as talking graphing calculators or BrailleLite, especially when the equipment may be needed by a specific student for only a limited period of time
  • Robust problem-solving capacity
  • Shared multi-district/coop policies and support for specific and potentially sensitive arrangements, such as when O&M specialists take a student off campus for instruction
  • Increased use of professional development resources
  • Increased capacity for consistency of services between districts
  • Increased capacity for reducing professional isolation, thereby retaining VI professionals in the co-op/SSA.