Letter: New committee will promote special education, highlight the need for paraprofessionals
In December 2021, the Steamboat Pilot & Today reported about the shortfall in special education teachers and paraprofessionals in the Steamboat Springs School District. The district lacked six and a half full-time equivalents in paraprofessionals. Today, the situation remains similar.
The district increased the hourly wages about 30% for these positions, yet there remains a 20% employment gap in special education paraprofessionals.
Our country’s high inflation, local cost of living and other economic factors resulting from the pandemic have perpetuated the issue in our community. The top end wage of $23.82 per hour for paraprofessionals results in nearly 50% of their income going toward housing during the school year.
Special education paraprofessionals are in high demand. They are amazing people with a unique passion for serving students with special needs. While it is rewarding, it can be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, especially when hourly wages cannot meet basic living needs.
School districts in America are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act to meet Individual Education Plan requirements. But this can only be done effectively when special education paraprofessionals and teachers are available to meet those needs. How do we — as a community — help attract and keep special education paraprofessionals in Steamboat Springs?
Recently, a group of parents of special needs children formed a Special Education Advisory Committee. While the organization is in the nascent stages, its objectives are to identify opportunities to promote special education and the need for paraprofessionals. Special education is an industry that is growing and in high demand. And Steamboat Springs is a community where many people would love to call home.
The committee seeks partnerships with local organizations, businesses and citizens to identify solutions and funding opportunities that may increase the affordability of housing and help offset the high cost of living that burdens many in our community. Steamboat Springs is a community with well-established and nationally renowned special needs programs like the Yampa Valley Autism Program, Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and Horizons. The Steamboat Special Education Advisory Committee intends to work with these organizations to find mutual benefits to grow and maintain our special education programs and support our special needs children.
The committee will continuously showcase the great work our special education teachers and paraprofessionals do for our amazing children. They are unsung heroes who exhibit a level of compassion, patience and understanding that is remarkable but under recognized in the community.
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