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Stipend increase for special education teachers

With Mission CISD’s rising enrollment, the number of special needs students is also on the rise. The only problem is the growing numbers leave Mission CISD understaffed, specifically at the preschool level. But the district is making moves to rectify the issue. 

At the Oct. 12 board of trustees meeting, the board unanimously approved a $3,000 stipend for early childhood special education teachers. The hope is the extra $1,800 will incentivize certified teachers to apply. 

“We do have a dire need right now to fill some vacancies,” Executive Director for Special Education Frances Cruz said. “We’ve been trying for several months, in some cases, to fill some vacancies that have been open for quite some time. But the issue that we’re struggling with is finding that special education certification and teachers applying to those positions.”

Between seven classrooms, there are two early childhood teacher vacancies MCISD needs to fill, one of which has been vacant since the start of the school year. The district also has a vacancy at the intermediate level, but the stipend increase is only for educators caring for children ages 3 to 5. Cruz explained the difference between the two levels at the Oct. 5 board workshop. 

“These babies are coming to school for the very first time and, in many cases, they haven’t had any other formal school setting. So just getting them into the classroom and getting them learning those routines and instruction with their disabilities is a huge challenge,” Cruz said. “In addition, there’s a lot of toilet training that is taking place in those grade levels, whereas in the intermediate and upper grades students have already gone through that training.” 

Federal law requires public schools to provide special education services to eligible students through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA also mandates students with disabilities have access to licensed special educators. But with the vacancies at Mission CISD, the district has to bring in substitutes that may not have the required training. So, central office staff with special ed certifications have to go into the classroom to support the sub. 

Although Mission CISD has had difficulty filling the vacant positions, it is not the only district experiencing that problem. Schools across the country have reported shortages in recent months. However, there have been reports of a special education teacher shortage across the country since the early 2000s, spurring research and articles on the matter. 

Mission CISD leaders hope the stipend increase will encourage teachers already within the district to apply. 

“The children need free and appropriate education. Which means that their needs, their individualized educational plans must be met,” Superintendent Dr. Carol Perez said. “We must make this position attractive so the teachers that we have stay, and attract new ones to the vacancies.” 

In addition to the stipend increase, Mission CISD already pays teachers above the market median and has continued to increase teacher salaries for the last four years. 

Cruz said the stipend increase at Mission CISD is comparable to the pay at other districts in the area. Even though they are hiring from the same pool of candidates, the superintendent is optimistic getting ahead of the curve will help MCISD out from the pack. 

“Most of our special ed teachers stayed. We are having to open new classrooms because of new enrollment of children,” Perez said. “Therefore, we’ve got to make it worth their effort and reward them for the hard work that we know they’re gonna have to do.”

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