TOWNSEND — Townsend schools are in need of paraeducators. While hiring bonuses and flexible hours have brought in some new workers, the rising cost of living and lower starting pay is making it harder to hire and retain employees.
Paraeducators work with disabled or special needs youth in group or one-on-one situations. They help with everything from school assignments to personal needs. Additionally, paraeducators in Townsend also help with recess and lunch duty.
The Townsend School District started off this year with seven full-time paraeducators for all K-12th. They currently have 12 paraeducators working a variety of hours, made possible in part by monetary incentives such as an $1,800 signing bonus and flexibility with paraeducators' schedules. Allowing for flexibility in paraeducators' schedules also means having to hire more people.
But despite the increase in paraeducators the school is still in need of 3 more.
The rising cost of living in the area and lower base pay, when compared to many low-skilled jobs, has made hiring full-time paraeducators a real challenge.
“We could probably use 30 more ‘paras or people to volunteer just because there's such a need,” says Paraeducator Rick Naber.
The Townsend School District student population is also growing at a rapid rate. The number of students last year was at 630, but now they are lingering closer to 700. Because of this growth, some grade numbers are beyond maximum capacity. By law, they are then required to have additional paraeducator support. And with the shortage of these helpers, and growing attendance predictions, paraeducators are a necessary resource.
“We have students who need to have someone with them all the time. And so, without that, that student would be, you know, without luck, no luck of having one with them, they wouldn’t be gaining any education. Or the teacher can't be with them and 20 other kids, you know, working with them, so their education would be in trouble,” says K-5 Principal Christina Hartmann.