Alamance-Burlington school board members relented this week after learning that ABSS was unsuccessful at negotiating a shorter contract term to hire six high school athletic trainers for the current school year that began Monday.
School board members have pressed for the last several years to use a portion of their county budget to hire licensed athletic trainers to work with ABSS coaches and athletes to prevent and diagnose injuries during practice sessions and games.
During their August 22 meeting, school board members had discussed the possibility of using a portion of the school system’s undesignated fund balance (i.e., “rainy-day savings” from previous county funding allocations) to hire six high school athletic trainers under a contract with Stewart Physical Therapy, which has a location across from the ABSS Central Office on Vaughn Road, as well as several other locations.
ABSS chief academic officer Revonda Johnson estimated last week that it would cost $1.2 million to enter into a three-year contract – the length that the school board had discussed this spring – to hire six athletic trainers with Stewart Physical Therapy.
After learning last week that the school system’s chief finance officer would need to conduct a “pre-audit” certification showing that ABSS has sufficient funds on hand to cover the entire cost of a three-year contract – which, at $1.2 million, would leave just over $2 million in undesignated fund balance – school board members asked the ABSS administration to see if Stewart Physical Therapy would agree to a shorter contract term.
“We talked with Stewart to see if they could do less than a three-year contract,” Johnson told school board members during a special-called meeting Tuesday night. “At this time we are not going to be able to do that.”
Johnson further elaborated that it would be difficult to find someone willing to work “just for a year” and for ABSS to procure any equipment that might be needed. “At this time, the partnership with Stewart Physical Therapy is on hold,” she said Tuesday night.
ABSS had previously contacted several other companies about contracting for high school athletic trainers and “almost had another in line,” Johnson said, but it turned out “they were already shorthanded in another district.” She highlighted the fact that “Stewart is local, right here with us.” They and other medical practices “are struggling to keep the trainers they have,” Johnson noted this week.
In the short term, athletic coaches are trained to provide “basic first aid,” while EMTs and first responders in Alamance County “have more training,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “Not only would [we] be funding six athletic trainers, but we need to have someone who oversees those six” and would be responsible for ensuring that athletic trainers are up-to-date on their certifications, in addition to acting as a liaison between schools and doctors, she explained.
“Stewart Physical Therapy has been on the sidelines [at ABSS games], donating their time – some of their employees have,” Johnson told the board. “We do have first responders for all six of the traditional high schools; these first responders are trained to deal with an incident if it happens on the field.” She also pointed out that some local doctors have volunteered to their time to be on hand during ABSS athletic games. “The Kernodle Clinic and Mebane medical facilities do try to help us,” Johnson added.
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves asked how much ABSS is currently spending for first responders.
Johnson said she isn’t sure but would gather that information for a future discussion.
School board member Ryan Bowden responded, “Personally, I had the mindset it was the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach. It has become the reality we are just not going to be able to find that $1.2 million right now.”
Bowden suggests using phased approach to hire athletic trainers
Bowden also floated the idea Tuesday night of using “phased approach” for hiring licensed athletic trainers, similar to how ABSS had hired School Resource Officers (SROs), before Alamance County’s commissioners agreed in June of this year to covering most of the costs for the SROs.
What about a phased approach?
“We can’t do the $1.2 million [contract], but we can do some type of pilot program – get one or two in place.
– School board member Ryan Bowden
Bowden asked whether ABSS could consider hiring “a couple” of athletic trainers each fiscal year until the school system is fully-staffed and having the ABSS director of athletics, George Robinson, oversee the athletic trainers.
“We can’t do the $1.2 million [contract], but we can do some type of pilot program – get one or two in place,” Bowden said Tuesday night.
Johnson said she and ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler had discussed that idea. “The problem with that is – we would need everyone to understand – how do you choose where that trainer is going to be on a Friday night?” Johnson added.
Johnson also said Robinson doesn’t have the specialized medical training required to oversee licensed athletic trainers.
What do licensed athletic trainers do?
In making the case for implementing licensed athletic trainers at the six ABSS high schools, Robinson told school board members in October 2019 that athletic training is recognized by the American Medical Association as a healthcare profession.
Services provided by athletic trainers include “injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergent care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical injuries,” Robinson said at the time, citing the National Athletic Trainers Association. Licensed athletic trainers are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, plus CPR, first aid, and injury management training, Robinson said during his October 2019 presentation.
At the time, Robinson put the price tag for hiring six high school athletic trainers and a supervisor at far less than the $500,000-plus cost for the first year of implementation that Johnson gave the school board last week.
The cost to hire six licensed athletic trainers was originally estimated at an annual cost of more than $300,000, plus an additional employee to oversee them, at another $32,000 to $36,000 per year, based on figures presented to school board members in the fall of 2019.
ABSS would also need to hire system-wide athletic health coordinator, at an annual salary originally estimated at between $32,000 and $36,000, to develop procedures and then hire the six high school trainers. The salary for licensed athletic trainers who also teach high school courses such as sports medicine averaged $55,000 in 2019, based on figures that were presented at the time to school board members.
In 2019, ABSS paid first responders two supplements per year, which ranged between $980 and $1,600, depending upon experience, Robinson said in an October 2019 interview with The Alamance News.
Robinson acknowledged in October 2019 presentation that the process of implementing a program, developing policies, and ensuring compliance with North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) regulations were beyond his scope of expertise.
Licensed athletic trainers who work with North Carolina public school systems are required to work under the supervision of a licensed physician, and most athletic trainers have a master’s degree, based on his Robinson’s earlier presentation.
The school system’s administration, under then-superintendent Dr. Bill Harrison, originally sought in the fall of 2017 to hire part-time contract athletic trainers through several other practices, including Greensboro Orthopedics, Kernodle Clinic, and Murphy Wainer Orthopedic.
Those negotiations collapsed, Robinson recalled during his subsequent presentation to the school board in October 2019.
Johnson also pointed out Tuesday night that “parents, coaches, and students all have a concussion protocol they have to sign off on” before an athlete can play.
“Every year this board has had to make a decision what to cut because we’re never fully-funded for what we [need],” school board member Allison Gant said Tuesday. “I encourage this board to put it right at the top.”
School board member Donna Westbrooks added, “It definitely needs to stay at the top – we’ve got to do something.”
“We’re trying,” Butler responded Tuesday night, “and hopefully we’ll have it by next fiscal year.”
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