IRON RIVER—That darn state line is making life difficult for West Iron County once again.
This time, it’s the state of Michigan suddenly deciding it will no longer honor the Wisconsin lifetime license of its speech pathologist, Vicky White.
“Michigan, as of Dec. 6, no longer honors it,” Elementary Principal Michelle Thomson told the School Board during its Dec. 16 monthly meeting. It means West Iron is now scrambling to meet its students’ needs.
Kathy Campain, who did that work for West Iron before retiring and was still working with some students, has agreed to take on most of White’s caseload. The principal said she and White met recently to prioritize the caseload “and make sure we’re meeting the needs of our very needy speech cases.”
West Iron will also send a letter to affected parents, alerting them about what has happened and to make sure the district is following each student’s educational program. Part of the letter, the Thomson noted, will say that parents have the right to find outside services and then bill the school.
“That would mean traveling to Iron Mountain,” she noted. “But that is their right if we can’t fulfill their child’s IED. Other options are just not out there.”
“We can’t use her [White] any more?” asked one board member.
“We can not,” the principal said.
“We tried!” said Superintendent Chris Thomson, who said he called state officials in Lansing. “I was told it was a licensor thing—call them. When I called the licensor, I was told that’s a special ed issue—call them.”
He sounded exasperated. “We have a 30, 40-year veteran of teaching speech therapy, and the state of Michigan is saying she doesn’t qualify for a teaching certificate because she doesn’t have her master’s [degree].”
Thomson said he met with fellow superintendents a few days earlier. “They’re not having speech therapy needs, but they’re having the same frustration with the state.”
The Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District doesn’t have speech therapists who can help, but Thomson said superintendents are pressuring the ISD to be the “conduit” for such posts, as it already does for school psychologists and school social workers.
The superintendent said a speech therapist would come into West Iron as a first-year teacher. “If you graduate from the University of Wisconsin with a master’s, you’re not going to come to West Iron and start for X [salary]—when the hospitals are offering X times 3.
“The ISD has the ability to stretch beyond collective bargaining agreements and/or pay differently because of the structure.”
Forest Park, he said, is subcontracting with a Marquette firm for speech therapist work. “It costs a day and a half, and they’ve got to pay drive time.
“So if you’re contracting at X dollars an hour, they’re paying for the three hours that they’re driving from Marquette.” If the roads are bad and the trip takes longer, that comes out or the time set for working with students.
Speech pathologists have been working four days a week at West Iron, six hours a day. “Our caseload is a full-time load,” the superintendent told the board.
As for White, “She was qualified beforehand. We received assurances from the ISD that she was good to go, and she was good to go. That wasn’t the issue.
“And she’s a wonderful teacher. It’s just that the state changed the rules.”
If she lived in Michigan, Thomson said, White would have been grandfathered in. “But she is from Wisconsin.”
“In the eyes of the state,” added Michelle Thomson, “they’d rather have nobody there than have Vicky there.”