PARIS – Two weeks after the SAD 17 Board of Directors approved spending $30,000 to create a new special education teaching position at the Paris Elementary School, the search for a qualified candidate remains elusive.

“As of the end of last week, we have not received an application from a fully-certified candidate for the Paris position, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett said Monday. “We are continuing our search but are also considering some other internal options.”

The agreement by the board at its January 22 meeting to fund the position for the remainder of the school year out of Contingency Funds was based on the district’s need to be in compliance with Chapter 101, which is the Maine Unified Special Education Regulation.

“We’re legally out of compliance,” said Director Barry Patrie, chair of the Personnel Committee which met with special education administrators prior to the vote to hear their argument for the additional teacher.

The 2017 rule governs the administration of the child find system for children age birth to 20, the provision of early intervention services for eligible children birth to under age 3 with disabilities and their families, and the provision of special education and related services to eligible children age three to twenty with disabilities and their families.

The rule is intended to implement the state’s obligations under under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state regulations. Part of those regulations require a teacher/student ratio that had been exceeded, said officials.

“They made a very compelling case for the need for an additional special education teacher at the Paris Elementary School due to circumstances beyond control,” Patrie explained to his fellow directors of the upsurge in students needing special education services, particularly those diagnosed within the autism range.

“The student teacher ratio is not what it should be. We’re going to try to get it in balance of where it should be,” he said.

Jane Morse, SAD 17 director of special services, said the numbers in the self contained, autism life skills program have remained high and this year escalated enough to force the hiring of another teacher mid year to meet mandates.

Meeting the requirements of special education regulations requires the ability to be financially flexible, agree officials.

“It’s always numbers driven,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the Advertiser Democrat. “We budget for the number of students we currently have. Sometimes that works against us and we have to add. That’s why we have a contingency budget. Every new budget involves new positions. You’ll always know whether were expanding or reducing.”

The problem in this case, say officials, is finding a qualified special education teacher to fill the spot. With multiple job openings, even at this time of year, it can become a challenge to fill the positions.

As an example, Colpitts told the directors that under 20 students graduated with special education degrees from the University of Maine at Farmington this past year.

“The competition is fierce,” he told the directors. “Before you’d have a stack of 60 resumes. Now it’s who can I get to apply?”

The Maine Department of Education designates teacher shortage areas each year and the shortages have been noted since the early 1900s when the lists were first generated.. During the 2017-2018 school year, the state of Maine recorded shortages in special education areas, an area that has been short since the start of the lists.

Previously, less than-fully-certified teachers were allowed to be special education teachers in Maine for up to three years while they pursued full certification. That has changed, making the applicant pool even tighter.

“We are similar to much of the rest of the state, in that we are experiencing a lack of qualified candidates applying for special education positions,” said Hartnett.

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