By Trina Trice
The beginning of the new school year is a little over two weeks away, but the school system has yet to fill all of its vacancies for special education teachers.
Of the 52 teaching vacancies that are posted on the school system's Web site, nearly half are for special education teachers.
Special education teachers provide regular and modified curriculums to students with disabilities, such as autism, behavioral disorders, and severe or mild mental and physical impairments.
The posted positions are misleading, though, says Tom Erdmanczyk, director of special education.
"We are doing well," he said. "We may end up starting school with a few substitutes, but I can count them on one hand."
Erdmanczyk estimates that there are currently between eight and 12 "real" openings for special education teachers.
Recommendations for those teaching slots rest with the approval of the principal of an individual school who is in charge of hiring.
Some principals have already considered candidates to fill their job openings but could be waiting for supplementary materials to complete their applications, Erdmanczyk asserts.
The school system also recently advertised the positions in other states that could produce more qualified candidates.
"I'm hopeful that we'll have candidates to fill each position," Erdmanczyk said. "There is a critical shortage, but we've been lucky in metro Atlanta ?cause we tend to attract people from up North and our salary is competitive."
The school system currently employs 502 special education teachers.
The number of school nurses is also low, especially in middle schools, something parents have been asking the Board of Education to help change.
Only one out of the county's 12 middle schools has an on-campus school nurse.
Of the 33 nurses currently employed, one is stationed at Adamson Middle School, one at North Clayton High School, and one at the Alternative School.
The school system recently posted six vacant nursing positions, said Luvenia Jackson, assistant superintendent of Student Services.
"We're in great shape as far as hiring goes," she said. "I don't expect not being able to fill them."
But getting more nurses in the county's middle and high schools depends on state legislators and the governor because funding comes from the state.
"Right now, I don't know how the (school) system could accommodate each school," Jackson said.
The 2004 budget provides a 6.5 percent increase in spending for nurses, rising from $1.02 million to $1.08 million.
"We believe that we have a system-wide need (for nurses)," said parent Tom McBrayer.
Although Jackson did not give the amount it would take to get a nurse in each school, she said she knew it would be a daunting task to have one in each of the county's 54 schools.
To compensate for the shortage, schools have instituted the "green card" on which parents write a student's emergency contact and special health condition information.