Plan to cap special-ed pay to be rethought
Several providers warn of a possible crisis in services
The state Department of Education pledged yesterday to reconsider plans to cap the rate of pay for private special-needs workers, after being warned by some providers of a possible service crisis.
The department met with about a half-dozen providers, state lawmakers and concerned parents at the state Capitol yesterday to go over the department's proposal and its possible impacts.
The cap would limit the hourly pay for skills trainers working under state contract to $27 from a current maximum of $36 beginning July 1. The pay for intensive instructional services coordinator would go down to $63 from the ceiling of $155.
If the plan moves forward, Jeffrey Bergbauer, administrative director for the Institute for Family Enrichment, said he expects to lose at least a third of 210 workers who would probably leave the state to find better pay.
"We will lose our mental health professionals, and we will have to look to hire a lower-level, bachelor person," said Bergbauer, whose company services autistic and behaviorally challenged students at public schools on Oahu and the Big Island.
Other providers, including CARE Hawaii Inc. and Quality Behavioral Outcomes, all opposed the rates, agreeing they would significantly disrupt their operations and put them in debt.
Debra Farmer, the DOE's administrator for special education, said the department picked the lowest rates -- $27 and $63 -- that providers offered because it wanted to make sure taxpayer money is being spent wisely.
"In the past they just told us and they got it," she said, adding that the DOE would review detailed financial reports from providers and consider their concerns to hopefully find a rate acceptable to all. "We of course want to work with them and make this work for our kids."
The state would need to decide on a new rate before Jan. 26, the deadline by which providers need to submit their request for proposals, Farmer said.
Ann VanNatta, a special-education teacher at Waianae High School and mother of an autistic son, said if private companies pull out of the market because of the rates, state workers would not be able to care for all students, something that could lead to lawsuits from upset parents.