City to hire paraprofessionals to ease crunch in special education

NASHUA – Three dozen special education paraprofessionals should be heading to city schools soon to help meet student needs.

This week, school board members authorized spending $395,080 to hire 36 temporary paraprofessionals, bringing the total number of paraprofessionals in the district to about 350 for the school year.

The money to pay for the positions comes from the district’s local special education tuition account, funding that comes from the tuition of special education students from outside the city.

Eric Schroeder, director of special education, said the positions would be spread across the district in nearly every school. All of the positions are considered temporary and for the current school year only.

Linda Guidi, a teacher speaking on behalf of the Nashua Teachers Union, told board members Monday night that there is a significant need for more paraprofessionals.

She said she’s gone to several meetings with staff at schools and listened to their concerns.

“The single number one concern we’ve heard is the need for more paraprofessional help,” she said. “Both teachers and paraprofessionals are feeling a lot of stress around this issue and having concerns about meeting their legal requirements.”

During the last school year, Nashua had one education specialist for every 116 students, which was well below the state average of one specialist for every 68 students, according to data from the state Department of Education.

Schroeder said it’s not unusual for the district to need to draw from the account to hire more staff after it becomes clearer what types of disabilities students have and what their needs are.

Changes in enrollment and changes to student Individual Education Plans require additional staffing, he said.

Schroeder said that in the past he would authorize the money to come from the special education tuition account, but said this year administrators opted to bring it forward to the board for public approval. “This way it’s more transparent,” he said.

The documentation that was provided to the school board to accompany the funding request detailed some of the disabilities that school staff need to deal with.

Many of the new paraprofessionals will be used to work with students on a one-on-one basis or in small classroom settings.

Many of the students where the extra staff is needed are in intensive needs program or are in other special education programs and have cognitive disabilities.

The funding also includes money to pay for an additional intensive needs classroom teacher, which will be shared between Amherst Street Elementary School and Charlotte Avenue Elementary School.

There is currently $424,235 in the special education tuition account, with an additional $300,000 expected to come in as revenue this year. That will leave $329,155 after the new positions are filled.