Special education, transportation, early childhood hit hardest by school district staffing challenges | VailDaily.com
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Special education, transportation, early childhood hit hardest by school district staffing challenges

Plus, how upcoming enrollment count could impact district budget, staffing

As the Eagle County School District continues to seek creative solutions to staffing, three ares of need have risen to the top.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

Alongside other school districts across the nation and the state, Eagle County School District has been struggling to fill staffing positions for the past few years, and this year is no exception.

Sharing an update with the local Board of Education on Wednesday, Sept. 14, Superintendent Philip Qualman said that the overall number of openings across the district remains around 75, “if not more.” This is the same number that the superintendent reported at the board’s last meeting on Aug. 23.

Last week, however, the superintendent reported that these staffing shortages have impacted three areas most significantly: exceptional student services, transportation and early childhood education.



Within exceptional student services — a department that provides resources and services to students with exceptional needs in the district — special education positions have been the hardest hit, Qualman reported.

“We are lacking many paras, and we are also lacking many experts in some of our smaller school-based programs that support our neediest students,” he said. “The result is principals are filling in for these roles, directors of special education are filling in for these roles, and it’s taxing the individuals who are supposed to be running it, or who are assisting in running it.”

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Qualman added that this current way of operation is “not sustainable.”

Transportation staffing has been an ongoing concern of the district, as it has had to reduce and alter bus routes as well as cancel field trips and sports away games as a result of a lack of drivers. Since his Aug. 23 report, Qualman said on Sept. 14 that this department’s challenges are “not getting better, it’s actually gotten worse.”

Overall, the district has a need for 30 drivers. However, it currently has 17 drivers, which has resulted in “half as many routes as we would like to have,” he reported.



“Those will continue to whittle away if we can’t get more drivers,” Qualman said. “We have canceled numerous field trips, and we also have numerous away games with our sports teams that are in jeopardy.”

Within early childhood education — another area that has seen ongoing challenges for the past few years — the district is “missing, at last count, 19 para-educators,” Qualman said.

For all three of these areas, Qualman reported that the district is planning to bring people together and create groups to try and come up with creative solutions using the resources it currently has.

The additional area of need, he added, is in finding solutions for Colorado’s “dysfunction funding model” for education.

Part of the challenge — particularly with early childhood education positions and transportation — is the district is competing with other companies not beholden to this funding model.

 “We need people to work for us, but in order to get them here we’ve got to have affordable housing and we’ve got to have competitive wages,” Qualman said. “Our challenge is we can’t compete with private sector jobs in the public sector, when we are constrained by a state budget that keeps us from being competitive. That is our challenge.”

In addition to its growing affordable housing inventory, the district has sought to use the community’s housing resources to fill affordable housing needs. This included earlier this year, a letter sent out to property owners in Eagle County. A letter, Qualman said on Wednesday was “a creative solution that treats a symptom,” but that doesn’t treat the disease itself.

“The disease is a dysfunction funding model in Colorado that keeps us from being competitive in the nation to recruit people to work in a sector that is harder and harder with fewer and fewer people that are willing to work in it,” he added.

While Qualman added that housing is a piece of this solution, it’s “one solution we’ve had to implement,” among many others to balance its budget and remain competitive on wages while battling this funding and the challenges it presents.

These other solutions he said include things “like larger class sizes, like consolidated bus routes, like increasing the walking distance for people to get to school, like canceling field trips and on and on and on.”

Preliminary enrollment count

Part of the state’s budgetary model includes a per-pupil funding amount — this year set by the 2022 School Finance Act at $10,029.39 per pupil, a $732.25 increase from the previous year — allocated to the district based on student enrollment. This enrollment number is determined annually in an October student count.

While the district’s formal student count does not take place until the first week of October, it has begun informal counts to get a preliminary look at student numbers.

According to Qualman at the Sept. 14 school board meeting, the preliminary numbers show the district’s count being down 125 students from its projections made during the 2022-23 budgetary process earlier this spring. These enrollment numbers, for the state’s budget process, are averaged across three years, which would bring the average budgetary impact closer to 20 students below projections, Qualman said.

This, he added, “will amount to about $200,000 in our budget, which is not insignificant, but in a budget our size, we can absorb that with relative ease.”

Not only do these numbers have an impact on the district’s funding allocations from the state, but also on each school’s FTE — or full-time equivalency and the number of full-time employees each school is allocated. As these numbers are only preliminary, Qualman told the board that any FTE adjustments won’t be estimated or made until after the official October count is finalized.

However, once this count is finalized, there could be some shifting of FTE between buildings if schools are higher or lower than projections by 20. At this point, FTE could be moved to or taken away from schools and personnel could be shifted, all based on enrollment numbers.


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