Steamboat needs special education teachers, but lack of affordable housing remains an obstacle
The Steamboat Springs School District accepted 11 resignations involving special education-related positions as the 2022-23 school year nears its end. With these crucial positions open throughout the district, the Special Education Advisory Committee is looking to move full steam ahead on recruitment efforts to fill the positions for the 2023-24 school year.
But if the school district does find a way to attract more potential special education educators, will they be able to afford to live here?
Members of the Special Education Advisory Committee are looking to address this need as soon as possible and have been building community partnerships and researching efforts that have worked in other school districts.
At the Special Education Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday, May 17, soon-to-be high school principal Jay Hamric said he already has been working on filling open positions at the high school and anticipates upping the number of special education teachers from seven to nine-and-a-half next year. He shared he was extremely hopeful that these two-and-a-half additional positions will be filled and has already sent out offer letters.
While this helps the high school, the rest of the district still remains low on special educators and special education paraprofessionals.
Kristen Atwood, slated to take on the director of exceptional student services position for the upcoming school year, said she would like to start now with new initiatives and incentives to get the positions filled.
“It may need to be like a $500 bonus or a ski pass if you sign on and commit to showing up and loving these kids,” Atwood said at the meeting. “We need to do something to find the right people to fill these shoes.”
Incentives need to extend past potential bonuses, however, as the group acknowledged that lack of affordable and attainable housing serves as a major roadblock for getting these much-needed hires to Steamboat.
Pete Wood, a parent on the Special Education Advisory Committee, shared that he had been looking extensively into a program out of Summit County called Lease to Locals. He said he believes this model could present some solutions for the Steamboat Springs School District.
Lease to Locals incentivizes property owners and property managers to rent to locals at a discounted rate, and they get a subsidy for doing so. Wood noted he has been having conversation with Yampa Valley Housing Authority board member Kathi Meyer and she is hopeful that this is something that could be brought to Steamboat.
The topic of incentives for affordable long-term rentals was discussed at the May 9 Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, where council explored a handful of similar programs that have found success in Colorado high-country areas such as Salida, Winter Park and Summit County, as well as Ketchum, Idaho.
Colorado House Bill 21-1271 already has created three new programs that offer grant money and other forms of state assistance to local governments to promote the development of affordable housing.
In addition to drawing from other successful models, Wood also looked into what immediate efforts can be undertaken in Steamboat.
To brainstorm about ideas for housing these educators, Pete Wood brought in Jon Wade, local real estate agent and owner of the Steamboat Group.
“We have these heroes, who are special education teachers and special education paraprofessionals, who need to come to our town and provide these services,” Wood said. “I brought in Jon to help us with some ideas to promote and hopefully influence some property owners who would like to fill their rental property with these heroes.”
Wade expressed interest in helping the group get out the word about the need for housing for special educators. He mentioned that he has a decent following on YouTube and may be able to garner as many as 15,000 views.
Special Education Advisory Committee members said they plan to keep the conversation going throughout the summer in hopes that solutions emerge in time for the 2023-24 school year.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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