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Introduction

Much confusion exists regarding the difference between recruitment and hiring. Seth Godin, noted human resources (HR) specialist, distinguishes between the two concepts. According to Godin: “Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications from people looking for a job. Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.” (Godin, 2009) Recruitment is also encouraging people to change professions, to become VI professionals.

This section will assist you in reviewing your hiring or employment options while providing a very brief overview of recruiting strategies. More information is located in Chapter 5: Recruiting VI Professionals.

Included in this chapter is information in the following areas:

  • Issues to consider when hiring dually certified VI professionals
  • Information about desirable characteristics for VI professionals
  • Using alternate pay scales for VI professionals as a tool for retention and recruitment

Advantages and disadvantages of various hiring options are listed at the end of the chapter. Additionally information about what you should expect to pay to contract with a VI professional is also included.

Assumptions

  • Administrators have access to career and hiring specialists in the human resource (HR) office. This is not intended to provide legal and technical information related to employment.
  • HR departments have expertise in issues related to employment and personnel management in general. However, beyond that, it is unlikely that they have any specific knowledge about VI professionals.
  • A caseload analysis is a fundamental step in determining the need for a new and/or additional VI professional and the percent of the full time equivalent (FTE) needed. (See Chapter 4)

Employing VI professionals

Once student needs have been identified and documented in a caseload analysis, decide how to structure the VI professionals’ jobs and how to recruit new or additional VI professionals.

Currently, there is a national shortage of educators certificated in visual impairments (TVIs) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS). Also, many VI professionals anticipate retiring within the next 5 years. Added to this, there are a limited number of sources for new VI professionals. As a result, strategies for locating, interviewing, and hiring these professionals that may be a bit different than your district’s typical recruitment and hiring practices.

Overview of recruitment options

Hiring vs recruiting

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications …. Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.” (Godin, 2009)

Recruitment options and strategies are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5: Recruitment. That chapter also includes information on locate VI professionals and strategies for making your program stand out. A brief listing of basic options is listed below:

  • Checking certifications of existing educators. It is not uncommon for districts to have staff members who have been previously certified in visual impairments but not currently working with student with visual impairments. There may be many reasons for this, and this change should be considered carefully. It is likely that if an educator is transferred, that a mentoring and professional development plan will be in order.
  • “Grow your own.” You may have an educator who is looking for a more challenging and leadership-oriented position but is not considering working in administration. She or he may be a perfect candidate to seek certification in visual impairments. This strategy often has the greatest long-term success, as the candidate is a known employee and committed to the district.
  • Look beyond the district. There are many avenues to find VI professionals. However, these may not be part of your district’s mainstream recruitment practices and may require looking out of your state. Chapter 5, Recruiting includes information about sources for potential candidates. 

Desirable characteristics of VI professionals

Itinerant positions are different from many other instructional settings. Itinerant VI professionals:

  • typically work with limited supervision;
  • travel from school to school or district to district;
  • work with multiple teams on each campus, often with between 50-75 members;
  • rely on interfacing with various professionals and their resources in educational and medical fields and in the local community; and
  • work with a wide range of ages, including infants.

As a result, VI professionals tend to work in a variety of environments and with minimal supervision. The best VI professionals were top-notch educators before they were certified in visual impairments.

In addition to being a skilled educator, other desirable qualities contributing to success as an itinerant educator include:

VI professionals typically work with limited supervision. Therefore it is important that those who hire have a solid understanding of what they are looking for in a VI professional.

  • 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 in various locations
  • Diagnostic and report-writing skills for thoroughly communicating complex information to a wide audience in a way that is understood by the reader
  • Self-motivation and self-discipline to be successful in a relatively unstructured position
  • Advanced technology skills, or an interest and/or capacity for developing such skills

These characteristics are always desirable for any educator. However, given the reality that VI professionals work with limited supervision, these characteristics are even more important.

Does it matter when I start the hiring process?

The first step is to conduct a caseload analysis that is based on assessed needs (refer to Chapter 4: Caseload Analysis Guidelines). The caseload analysis ideally would occur before the budget is finalized in the spring. Typically, student caseloads are fairly constant during the fall and 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.

Identifying the need as early as possible will also be helpful if the district decides to encourage an existing educator to get a VI certification. This will give the educator time to make up his or her mind and get enrolled in a training program. If your state has some type of probationary certificate in visual impairments, it may be possible to get a new VI teacher enrolled as early as the spring semester and be eligible to work as a probationary VI teacher the next fall.

Should I hire a VI professional on a higher pay scale or offer a stipend?

VI professionals often have responsibilities more in line with that of diagnosticians, whom they advise on matters of assessment and evaluation. Therefore it may make sense to put VI professionals on higher pay scales.

VI professionals hold a unique position in the district. They are perceived as the experts in visual impairments. Diagnosticians, supervisors, and administrators 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 meet legal standards, and be 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. TVI training is highly specific and is on a par with that of an occupational or physical therapist. O&M specialists are 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 maintains consistent, ongoing communications with parents.

What should I expect to pay for contractual services?

School districts often contract for services of many types, such as OT and PT services and other professional services. Most districts will have policies on what they are able to pay. Sometimes there is room for negotiations, but it may be a narrow range.

Still, the question remains: what should I know before I enter into a conversation about contracting with a VI professional? How can I recruit this VI professional to my district?

Based on a 2010 survey of VI professionals from multiple states, consultants were paid between $70 and $150 per hour for contractual work. This was the 3rd time this survey was completed since 2000. While the dollar amounts may change the factors have remained constant. Factors that affect the rates are listed below.

  • Student attendance
    • Is the rate dependent on student is available? Or will the VI professional be paid even if the student is sick, or attending a school function or field trip?
    • Is there a cancellation time? For example, if the district informs the VI professional that the student isn’t available with less than 12 hours’ notice, will the VI professional be paid for all or a portion of the fee?
  • Direct and indirect services
    • Is there a ratio of direct and indirect services, such as the time needed for lesson planning or report writing? For example, for every 5 hours of direct service, is one hour of indirect service credited for planning, consulting, report writing?
  • Travel time
    • Is it included in the rate? Is the travel rate from portal-to-portal? Is travel time charged at a lower rate?
    • When significant travel is involved, either between students or getting to and from the district, will the district may offer a different rate for that time. It could be as low as 50% of the standard rate.
  • Mileage or Travel costs
    • Is it available? Is it included in the rate? Is it an extra fee? What is the current rate? What documentation is required?
    • As gas prices change, or travel time increases, are rates subject to change? If mileage isn’t charged, but gas costs are reimbursed, what documentation is required?
  • Evaluations, assessments and report writing
    • How will evaluations or assessment be completed? Will they be charged at the same rate as when the VI professional works with a student? Is it included in the rate? Is it an hourly rate or a flat fee? Is the time needed for report writing accounted for, either at a flat rate or as a ratio?
  • Collaborative consultation with other staff members
    • Is it included in the direct service rate? Is there a rate difference between collaborative consultations and direct service? Or is it charged as part of the entire service hour/unit?
  • Contract or subcontract
    • Is the consultant billing the district, or there is an agency that provides the service and the VI professional is a sub-contractor? If the district is going through another agency to get the services, how much will the VI professional earn? When agencies keep an excessive amount, or the amount the VI professional is less than the typical range, then the VI professional is more likely to leave and disrupt the services to the district.
  • Geography
    • Professional consultants in the northeast and California charged more than in the mid-west and south. Additionally, locations that are very rural or very urban may have different fee structures.

Replies in the higher ranges tended to exclude travel time and/or mileage. Replies in the lower ranges seemed to be “portal to portal” and payment was due even if the student didn’t show up or was otherwise unavailable.

In almost all instances, no taxes are withheld, no medical insurance is paid. School districts issue the IRS 1099 form.

Here are 3 examples of how a district may contract with a VI professional. Many other scenarios are possible. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what you can expect.

  1. A district may pay on the lower end of the range: $80 per hour. However, it will pay even if the student doesn’t show up (possibly with a cap on absences), and will pay that same rate for assessments and evaluations and consulting with other educators. The district will also pay mileage at a standard rate, but will not pay for travel time.
  2. A district may pay in the mid-range of the scale for direct services, but the non-direct services are billed on an item-by-item basis. The travel time to see the student is more than an hour. So travel time is reimbursed at 50% of the hourly rage; no mileage reimbursement is included. Assessments and evaluations are paid at a flat fee. Functional vision evaluations and learning media assessments will cost $400.
  3. A district will pay at the high end of the range: $150 per hour. However, if the student doesn’t show up, the TVI or COMS won’t get paid. No mileage or travel time reimbursement is available. The contractor is paid for 1 hour per week to consult with other team members. Those evaluations necessary to determine eligibility may be billed for the amount of time needed to assess the student, but not other required assessments.

Hopefully, this will help you determine what sort of questions you may be asked and what you can expect to charge. Contractual services are an excellent option for districts in change for those who need less than a full time position. In many parts of the country, there is more contractual work than there are people to do it. So having a pro-active plan will work to the district’s advantage.

A special note about dual certification

While they share some common values, VI instruction and O&M services come from two different professions, not unlike OTs and PTs.

VI teachers (TVIs) and O&M specialists (COMS) belong to two different professions with two different sets of professional standards and practices, and are certified by different entities. Yet they share commonalities, not unlike the difference between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that standards are not compromised when supervising a dually certified professional. Research indicates that students are at risk of receiving inadequate services in one discipline when the same person provides both VI and O&M services. (Griffin-Shirley, Pogrund,& Grimmet, 2011)

It is important to understand the administrative impact of dual certification. A full caseload (about 10–12 students) for either a TVI or an O&M specialist typically includes students who need direct and/or consultative services. Collaborative-consultation should be active and effective, following a transdisciplinary (or “role-release”) model. Although not all students with visual impairments require O&M at all times, it is reasonable to expect that at any given moment at least 60% of the students will need O&M. This amount may be more if the caseload includes:

  • very young students,
  • totally blind students,
  • students whose vision is changing, or
  • students are experiencing changes in the environmental demands. These changes may be due to a change in schools, community, or the student’s need to interact with the community.

Hiring options should always be based on assessed need, such as the data that comes from a workload analysis.

Should a TVI become certified as an O&M specialist (COMS) and function as both, then adjustments must be made to the professional’s caseload. Adding additional individualized education plan (IEP) instruction will require additional time per student. 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 6–10 students.

What are my hiring options?

Districts have several hiring options, with each option having advantages and disadvantages. Each one may be appropriate at specific stages in a district or program. These listings were developed with significant input from special education administrators 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. Contractual rates vary greatly, but are affected by regional factors and whether the rate includes mileage, travel time, evaluations, and/or collaborative-consultation time. Contractual services may be indicated if a district needs a VI professional less than 8 hours (or one working day) per 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.
  • Staff may be more “local” although not necessarily from the same community.

Disadvantages

  • Staff may not be able to provide comprehensive support for students and in various environments, especially those with additional disabilities, due to limited time.
  • Staff may not have ownership of students or district.
  • Independent contractors may seem distant or like they are not full members of the educational team.
  • The cost per student 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 affects 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 needs.
  • 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 and/or information.
  • Staff may be difficult to locate in very rural areas.

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 (FTE) 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 (or other shared service arrangement) 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, which includes 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 collaborative-consultation, and access to and by parents.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development, as long as it is possible to modify schedules.
  • 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, including those who are semi-retired.
  • 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 entire day.
  • Because VI professionals may 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 with low vision or needing limited braille requirements most commonly use this model. Alternatively, districts that need more than a single VI professional, but not quite two FTEs use this model. This model does not include those VI professionals who are dually 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 with a private agency.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district’s staff, which includes 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 scheduling changes necessary for IEPs/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 increase 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 IEPs/IFSPs, assessments, parent meetings, team meetings, and to provide instruction in nontraditional environments and at nontraditional times. This flexibility may be challenging for a VI professional with other responsibilities, especially classroom responsibilities, and requires administrative support.
  • VI professionals may not be available to observe the students in various environments across 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 special situations must be balanced with other demands of two jobs.
  • Quality VI programming includes attention to the many skills included in the expanded core curriculum (ECC)., including social skills and adapted daily living skills. Sometimes a generic special education resource room simply includes a student with a visual impairment with the other students. VI professionals are not tutors, and it is a waste of this unique resource to use them as such. Due to time and resource restraints and/or lack of VI expertise, the VI/generic certified teacher might resort to tutoring students in areas that could better be addressed by other professionals, and may not be available to provide instruction in the expanded core curriculum.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it must negotiate its 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 (TVI) or as an O&M specialist (COMS). 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, which includes 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 collaborative-consultation and assessment with other team members.
  • If the district that employs the VI professional participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, the district may have limited administrative responsibilities.

Disadvantages

  • The district will be responsible for all of the costs and responsibilities associated with full-time employees, including evaluating staff performance.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it must negotiate the share of the time that the VI professional will be available for services.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it may have limited administrative 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

  • Districts can vary the time spent providing VI and O&M services based on student needs.
  • 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.

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. For the supervision to be effective and efficient, it is incumbent on the supervisor to have at least basic knowledge of both fields. A 2009 informal anonymous poll indicated that 60% of the responding administrators in Texas did not feel confident about their ability to supervise VI professionals. (Miller & Pogrund, 2009).

Participating in a shared-services arrangement or special/limited cooperative for VI services.

Although it may require more coordination with others outside of your district, exploring the “special purpose” cooperative may be much more cost effective than hiring a VI consultant or O&M specialist on a contractual basis.

Many states have “special purpose” cooperatives. A special (or limited) purpose cooperative is based on an agreement between special education programs to jointly 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. Typically, these provide specific services and can be formed and dissolved with a minimum of effort.

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. Many administrators are not even aware of this type of arrangement. Specific details will vary by state.

An example of how one could be arranged follows:

  • Multiple districts agree to share services with a single fiscal agent
  • The group may function as a co-op or as a purchase-of-services contract between districts
  • The members complete those forms required by the state education agency
  • 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
    • easily dissolve the arrangement when needs change

Advantages

  • 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 electronic braille equipment, especially when the equipment may be needed by a specific student for only a limited period of time.
  • Robust problem-solving capacity.
  • Increased use of professional development resources.
  • Increased capacity for consistency of services between districts.
  • Reduced professional isolation, thereby retaining VI professionals in the local area.

Disadvantages

  • Districts must develop an agreement about how to split the costs and the time of the VI professional(s), and may need to renegotiate it from year to year.
  • Costs may vary, from year to year, more than more traditional program. The cost is still likely to be less than a contractual staff member, but the district’s share of the costs may vary.
  • Not all states have such an arrangement.
  • Districts may have divergent policies and support for specific and potentially sensitive arrangements, such as when O&M specialists take a student off campus for instruction.

References

Godin, S., 2009. The difference between hiring and recruiting (Blog post). Retrieved from: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/12/the-difference-between-hiring-and-recruiting.html

Griffin-Shirley, N.,Pogrund, R., Grimmet, E., 2011. View of Dual-certified vision education professionals across the United States. Insight , Vol. 4 15-21.

Miller, C., & Pogrund, R. (2009). Survey of administrator confidence in managing VI programs. Unpublished internal report developed as part of data presented to the Texas Education Agency.