CHIPLEY -- As a shortage of dual-enrollment teachers looms ahead, Washington County School Board members are discussing a reimbursement program to get teachers qualified to fill the gap.

"What this idea is, is a tuition reimbursement program for teachers in our district who are now teaching, who would be willing to go back to school to get dual-enrollment credentialing," said School Board member Lou Cleveland.

Cleveland brought the idea to the board Monday afternoon at a workshop held at the district's headquarters, 652 N. Third St.

The drafted program titled "Teacher Graduate Tuition Reimbursement Program" would reimburse up to $525 per semester credit hour. Currently, the certification to teach college-level courses require a masters degree and 18 graduate semester hours in the appropriate subject area; or a masters degree with a major in math, English, history or science. Also, degrees and/or coursework must be from a regionally accredited college or university.

The program would allot a specific number of teachers to fill the upcoming vacant units, Cleveland said, noting, the district "can't afford to send everybody back for their masters."

While some board members acknowledged the need, in what School Board member Terry Ellis called "a gaping hole" in qualified teachers to fill dual-enrollment instructor positions, the board decided it would be best to get feedback from teachers in order to get more direction on how to pursue Cleveland's initiative.

On behalf of the board, chairperson Susan Roberts instructed principals at Chipley and Vernon high schools to "go and talk to your teachers, get their input." Board member Ellis recommended some research be done on how other school districts are managing the shortage.

Also at the meeting, Superintendent Joseph Taylor pointed to a need for district-wide reorganization, including, when it comes to contracting out institutions that provide educational services to the district's most involved exceptional student education (ESE) students.

Taylor's recommendation was for the district to bring those students back to Washington County School District and house a program for them at one of the regular educational schools.

Currently, nine ESE students attend Hope School in Marianna, Jackson County. School officials identified another 50 to 60 ESE students with milder disabilities that may also be included in the merger.

"I would like to propose that we pull, across the district, roughly, we're talking about 50-60 of our own students plus those nine students and creating somewhat of a center-school," said Director of ESE and Student Services Beth Arnold.

"I think some of our teachers would benefit from training with, certainly, autism and some of the more medically fragile students," she added later, noting the center-school would help the district consolidate resources. 

The consensus was that faculty and staff should be provided an opportunity to give input about the consolidation. If the board was to move ahead on the recommendation, the change would come around the start of summer school or the fall semester next year.

Washington County School Board meetings are held at 5 p.m. on the second Monday of the month at the School Board Administration Building board room, 652 N. Third St.