GARDNER, Kan. — As more teachers leave the profession, one local school district is taking additional steps to try to retain special education teachers.

On Monday, the Gardner Edgerton school board unanimously approved allocating $82,100 for incentives to encourage special education staff to stay with the district.

“Fifty percent of our special ed[ucation] staff have walked away from the district in the last two years,” Human Resources Director Dr. Jody Marshall said. 

Marshall said the district is seeing an alarming turnover rate. Approximately 30% of special education staff left in the 2020-21 school year and roughly 20% departed in the 2021-22 school year. 

For the 2022-23 school year, the district will provide a $500 “hard to fill” stipend for all certified special education staff including paraprofessionals. Currently starting pay in the district is $11 per hour for a generalized paraprofessional and $12 per hour for specialized paraprofessional.

With roughly 106 special education staff members hired for the school year, this will cost the district approximately $53,000. 

“They are in a hard to fill position, they are in a unique position. This is just additional comp[ensation] to recognize the job they are doing and to affirm them,” Marshall said. 

The district will also spend approximately $8,250 to reimburse 33 staff members up to $250 each for license costs. This reimbursement will be offered for specialized staff including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, school psychologists, social workers, music therapists and audiologists.

“Oftentimes these folks have to renew their license more frequently than a veteran teacher. [For] a veteran teacher it’s every five years. For some of these professionals they’ve got to renew their license every year, every two years. That comes with a cost, we’d just like to defray that cost,” Marshall said. 

Marshall said each year the district has roughly a dozen special education teachers that are working under contract while concurrently working to obtain a full license to be in that position. These teachers are often working on a waiver license and are taking college courses to serve in that special education role. 

The district will now provide those teachers up to $1,000 for tuition reimbursement. This year the district will allocate roughly $15,000 to reimburse 15 teachers for those course expenses. 

Tiffany Morawiec, director of business and finance for the district, said the district received an increase in categorical funding from the state that will help cover the cost of the new incentives. 

“It’s not a lot. We’ve hoping that it just helps people stay so that we can work together this year and hopefully in next year’s budget have something a little bit more substantial,” Morawiec said.