Local Schools Lose Speech Therapists in Mounds of Paperwork

Article excerpt

Lynn Nelis was just starting to settle into retirement last fall when her former employer called. The McKeesport Area School District asked if she wanted to fill in for a speech-language pathologist teacher taking a leave of absence.

Though Nelis, 57, of Penn Hills enjoyed her 31-year career with the district as a speech-language teacher, the prospect of working every day and doing all the paperwork associated with the job wasn't attractive to her.

"I didn't have the desire to go back," said Nelis, who is enjoying volunteer work and traveling.

McKeesport is not the only school district having trouble finding speech-language pathologists. Many districts are feeling the effects of a national shortage.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the nation will need 121,000 speech-language pathologists by 2012 as workers retire and to meet the increasing demand. That's a 10-percent increase from the 110,000 employed in 2006.

Pennsylvania has 5,630 licensed speech pathologists, according to the Department of State.

Sometimes called speech therapists, they assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent disorders related to speech, language, cognitive- communication, voice, swallowing and fluency. Pennsylvania and many states require candidates to have master's degrees and certification to teach in this specialized field.

Susan Karr, associate director of school services in speech- language pathology for the American Speech-Language Hearing Association in Rockville, Md., said the greater need for instructors is attributable to better and earlier diagnoses of children with speech problems, such as those related to autism.

And speech pathologists command higher salaries in other professions, such as the health care field.

According to labor statistics, the median annual earnings in industries employing the largest numbers of speech-language pathologists were: nursing care facilities, $70,180; other health practitioners, $63,240; general medical and surgical hospitals, $61,970; elementary and secondary schools, $53,110.

The amount of paperwork is increased in the school setting, with individual education program (known as IEPs) evaluations, re- evaluations, progress reports and parent meetings.

"There's a lot of paperwork," said Janet Mascaro, program director of speech, language, hearing and vision programs at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. …