The school district has been spending more money on occupational therapy in recent years because more students need it. Going from contracting the service to hiring a full-time staff member could save the district money, the superintendent said.

The Boonville Board of Education decided Wednesday night to accept applications for a full-time occupational therapist to hire on staff after seeing bids for hiring an occupational therapy contractor.

Occupational therapists work with students to develop fine motor skills like manipulating objects with their fingers. The district is required by law to provide occupational therapy to the 50 students in the district who need it, Superintendent Sarah Marriott said. The school board decided to advertise the full-time position, and the online application is open until March 31.

Costs have increased over the past few years as more students eligible for occupational therapy join the district. In the 2014-2015 school year, the district paid $45,312. It paid $57,913.75 in the 2016-2017 school year and $85,208.32 in 2017-2018. Through February of this school year, the district has paid $52,850, and is expected to spend $85-90,000 by the end of the school year, Marriott said.

Columbia-based Hand to Hand Services, the district’s current contractor, provides an occupational therapist and a certified occupational therapy assistant. The two have been working an average of 32.4 hours a week this school year, and worked 30.57 hours per week last year, according to Marriott. One full-time staff member would be able to cover those hours, she said.

Hand to Hand submitted one of the two bids for occupational therapy services. The bid was $62 per hour for an occupational therapist and $50 per hour for an occupational therapy assistant. Those rates would go up $1 per hour in the second and third years of the contract.

The other bid was from Therapia, which bid $65 per hour for an occupational therapist and $55 per hour for an occupational therapy assistant.

A full-time staff member would start around $50,000 per year, which would cost the district about $65,000 when benefits are included, Marriott said.

That’s well below the $90,000 she expects the district to pay for occupational therapy by the end of this school year. Having the occupational therapist as a full-time employee would also give the district more flexibility, and the therapist would be more committed to Boonville schools and not worry about what other schools they might have to serve, Marriott said.

Marriott said there’s no guarantee anyone applies for the position. Occupational therapists can work for hospitals or nursing homes and make twice what they would make in a school district, she said.

“It’s just finding that right person who wants to work in education or who prefers that schedule,” Marriott said.

The board also renewed its contract with Trisha Meisenheimer, who does physical therapy for the district, for another three years. The district has been extremely pleased with Meisenheimer’s work, and the school doesn’t need physical therapy enough to justify hiring a full-time therapist on staff, Marriott said.

Meisenheimer submitted the lower of the two bids sent into the district for physical therapy services. Meisenheimer will keep her current rate of $60 per hour. Therapia submitted the only other bid at $65 per hour.

The board also agreed to keep using First State Community Bank as its depository. It also received bids from Citizen’s Bank and Trust and Commerce Bank in Columbia. Using a bank in Columbia wasn’t practical for the district, Marriott said, and First State offered better rates.

The district will move from Advanced Disposal to Columbia-based A-1 Disposal. A-1 submitted a bid that was $25 per month less than Advanced Disposal’s bid. The board approved the lower bid, agreeing to a one-year contract with A-1.

The board will meet for a special meeting March 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the school administration building to discuss bids for a health insurance provider.