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Friday, January 16th, 2015

Schools value service given by volunteers

By David Giesige

Coldwater schools cafeteria volunteers save the district an estimated $18,000 pe. . .

The role of school volunteers is vast and their value immeasurable.
They are on the sidelines of the big game, in the classroom helping teachers, behind the counter in the cafeteria and are relied on every day in local school districts.
Area superintendents say the valuable crew do not fill positions that would be paid. However, Celina superintendent Jess Steiner said it's a mixed but positive scenario.
"One way to look at it is that we don't really save any money by using volunteers because we would not hire those positions if they weren't filled by volunteers. Or you can say that we get thousands of man hours for free through our volunteers. I say that we get a ton of extra services donated to our district," Steiner said.
At Celina schools, volunteers can't be placed in a paid position due to union contracts, according to treasurer Mick Davis.
"That is something the union negotiated for. We aren't allowed to use volunteers in place of a position we would normally hire," he said, adding the Celina school district has a total of 403 employees.
Steiner said the district uses volunteers to read to students and assist athletic coaches.
Coldwater Exempted Village Schools' officials estimate the district saves approximately $18,000 per year by using 67 volunteers in the cafeteria. The calculation is based on a $12 per hour average rate paid to cafeteria workers at area schools.
Superintendent Rich Seas estimates the cafeteria volunteers work more than 1,500 hours each year.
Coldwater does not have an agreement with its teachers union concerning use of all its 97 volunteers, including those who work in the elementary and middle schools, according to Seas.
Minster schools superintendent Brenda Boeke said it is difficult to calculate the financial savings volunteers bring to the district.
"(Our volunteer program) doesn't fit the traditional mold. We have a process at the beginning of the year asking which parents are interested in assisting with a variety of requests from teachers. The numbers differ every year according to each teacher's needs," Boeke said.
Volunteers assist in the classroom, with presentations, the student-screening process and coaching. She is grateful for the many hours they put in every year, she said.
"I cannot put a dollar amount or an hour amount on what they do because they assist as needed, but I can say that we truly appreciate the time devoted to our school district from our volunteers. Their willingness to help is a wonderful example of service for our students," she said.
New Bremen elementary school principal Diane Kramer also noted the hours and services provided by volunteers change each year. She estimated that 20 volunteers come in about once a week to assist in different ways.
"Parents come in to help with special projects. We have ladies who work in the office making copies for teachers. One playground monitor comes in per day to watch over our kids at recess. We probably get around 15 to 20 total volunteer hours per week," Kramer said.
She said all volunteers undergo a background check before working at the school.
"It's like an FBI background check. They are fingerprinted, required to check in and sign in, and we make sure that they are well-known individuals from the community. The playground monitors are always a parent of one of our students," she said.
Just like New Bremen and other area schools, volunteers in the St. Marys district must undergo a background check, according to primary school principal Sue Sherman.
"Upon their first volunteer opportunity visit, they must provide us with a driver's license that then gets scanned through our system for a criminal record. They also must sign a confidentiality agreement so that our childrens' rights to privacy are protected," she said.
Volunteers at St. Marys schools help in the library and classroom, and provide aid for fundraising activities and special events such as picture day, she said.
Sherman estimated the elementary school starts every school year with 20 volunteers who help once per week. However, the number normally dwindles as the year progresses, she said.
Julie Garke, superintendent of St. Henry Local Schools, said the district also enjoys the benefit of volunteers from the community but uses high school and middle school students to tutor elementary students.
Garke also struggled to put a dollar amount the volunteers save the school but certainly appreciates their efforts.
"We are very grateful for the time they are willing to spend with our district," she said.
Marion Local Schools Superintendent Mike Pohlman said volunteers are used only about four hours per month at the school but put in a lot of time outside school walls.
"Marion Local is very blessed to have community members who support our schools. There is a group of retired men who paint the football field every year and take great pride in how it looks. Our athletic boosters used their skill and labor to renovate the baseball field. They poured the cement, installed new stadium seats and set the new poles in place," Pohlman said.
Volunteers told the newspaper they contribute for the love of the community and the kids. Mary Lou Hoyng of Coldwater has been donating her time in Coldwater's cafeteria twice per month for more than 20 years.
"I started when my children were in school, stayed through my grandchildren and now I get to see my great-grandchildren in school. I love it, it's so inspiring to see the children and watch them grow," she said.
Hoyng said it's also nice to get out of the house and see people.
Chris Knapke has been a Coldwater cafeteria volunteer for six years but has freely given her time to the district since helping start the booster club in 1978. She also served as a volunteer on the schools' Citizens Advisory Board.
Knapke said she currently volunteers almost two hours per day each month.
"I just like it. The school has been a very strong part of the community and it's good to give back," she said.
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