Dealing with a Dilemma Teacher Shortage Leaves Special- Education Programs at Risk
Krishnamurthy, Madhu, Zalusky, Steve, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy and Steve Zalusky Daily Herald Staff Writer
Several Lake County districts face acute shortages in special education teachers.
Nearly all Lake County school districts have advertised openings for special education positions on the county's regional department of education Web site.
However, finding candidates to fill those positions is a constant struggle, said Mark Heckmon, director of human resources for the Special Education District of Lake County.
SEDOL is the largest special education institute in the state, serving 2,200 students across Lake County with about 1,000 teachers and professional staff. The organization also offers programs to 36 member school districts countywide.
"It's been doubly difficult for us to find people to fill a lot of our positions because we're specifically special-education oriented," Heckmon said.
While many districts maintain their own basic special education programs, they also contract with SEDOL for advanced services.
Although the number of special education students in Lake County is no greater than anywhere else in the state, Lake County's overall population is growing.
Also, school districts are serving children with more severe special education needs, which limits class size and affects teacher-pupil ratios.
"You can't put 20 severely handicapped children in a classroom," Heckmon said. "In special education, the classroom makeup changes more dramatically during the course of the year than in regular ed."
That's because students can enter programs at any time during the school year.
School districts and SEDOL are trying to maintain a balance in teachers by recruiting all year.
SEDOL has hired about 70 employees in teaching and professional support staff positions so far in 2001.
"We've had to scramble quite a bit to find enough people to cover our positions," Heckmon said. "The candidate pool this year basically dried up."
It all comes down to the bottom line, as teacher salaries are far from enticing, Heckmon said.
Finding new teachers is harder than it once was, said Douglas Parks, superintendent of Aptakisic-Tripp School District 102. "Finding speech and language people is almost impossible. It's easier with LD (teachers of learning disabled students).
"We used to be able to fill our special education positions early in the spring," Parks said. …