By William Kincaid
The American Sign Language program may have found a permanent home at Marion Local Schools, according to Interim Superintendent Jim Dippold.
Marion Local is stepping in because the future of the sign language program, which was being offered through the Mercer County Educational Service Center (MCESC), is uncertain because state funding was cut this year and a request for additional funds through the Ohio School for the Deaf Outreach Program was unsuccessful.
Following the cut the MCESC board absorbed the excess costs to continue the program for students who had already completed their first year of study.
Dippold said Marion Local will continue the program next year with three different levels of the class.
"Everyone seems happy with the program," Dippold said at Thursday's regular meeting. "Marion Local loves the program and wants to keep it going." The MCESC, according to Dippold, will provide Marion Local with teacher Jodi Pierstorff and pay the expenses for next year, but charge the Marion Local board -- and New Knoxville and Hardin-Houston School boards which also subscribe to the program -- for its services.
Pierstorff will teach one period of sign language from Marion Local over interactive television to students in New Knoxville and Hardin-Houston.
Dippold said the MCESC only had to charge schools around $150 per participating student when it still received state funding. But without the funding, the price doubled to $300 per student.
Dippold told The Daily Standard that although the MCESC will continue the program next year, sign language could become a Marion Local-sponsored initiative in the future.
Marion Local Schools already has 60 students signed up for sign language next year, while New Knoxville has four students interested and Hardin-Houston has nine students enrolled.
The MCESC became a statewide pioneer in 1999 when it started the American Sign Language program with a $540,000 state grant for interactive telecommunications equipment.
This year, there are about 115 students involved in the sign language program, centralized at Marion Local where the majority of the participating students are enrolled.
Sign language teacher Jodi Pierstorff works at Marion Local in front of a camera, microphone and television monitor that can be displayed to all the schools in Mercer and Auglaize counties that have the telecommunications equipment. The equipment allows Pierstorff to interact and teach the students in schools across the two counties.
The course is practical because it qualifies as a foreign language credit in many schools. Also, some colleges -- which require their applicants to have a foreign language as a prerequisite to admission -- recognize the class.
In other board news, Treasurer Mary Brandon reported that the general fund revenues for the month were $352,675.95, while the expenditures were $389,533.06. The current fiscal year general fund balance is $861,602.67.