IOWA — School districts across the state are dealing with staffing issues as the 2022-23 school year is underway for most students.

From custodial crews to bus drivers, districts are trying to find a way to keep their staff full. One job listing has been consistently staying at the top of the pack for most positions available: special education.

On Thursday the Teach Iowa’s educational career portal, site listed 938 open special education jobs. The Johnston Community School District said they have more than a dozen associate positions open.

“So the number fluctuates, but as of today we’re in need of 17 associates, 14 of which would work directly with special education,” said Lynn Meadows, the Director of Communications from the district. “Special education students have ‘IEP’s’ or individualized education plans and many of these require one-on-one support from an educator.”

For the district the challenge this summer has been hiring and retention. Meadows mentioned that the district hosted a hiring event over the summer where they hired several associates. Those candidates then went to pursue another job shortly thereafter or were promoted to another position in the district. Even though Johnston is down 14 associates as the second day of class wrapped up, Meadows said that the district is committed on giving each student the one-on-one time that’s required.

“When we are short paraeducators it’s all hands on deck,” said Meadows. “We’re certainly going to meet a student’s IEP, so if it requires one-on-one support we’ll see who’s attending that day, which students and which teachers, and we’ll move people around to make sure that each student gets that support.”

Support is something one student is getting at Hubbell Elementary School in Des Moines.

Colin Burhn has autism and he is two days into first grade. WHO 13 News aired a special report in May about the state of funding in special education and how that has impacted Colin’s education journey so far. His mom, Kelly, spoke up about the lack of a permanent associate just for her son, as his IEP required. Fast forward to the beginning of the school year and Colin is off to a great start.

“I’m so happy to report that they have hired someone. They found a full time associate for Colin this year,” said Kelly Burhn. “It’s only day two of school and I already have success to report which is amazing.”

Colin attended his first ever morning meeting this week with his fellow first graders. He also participated in specials during his first week, this one was art class. Both of these tasks wouldn’t have been as easy for Colin if he did not have a full-time associate helping him along.

And because of Colin’s early success so far this school year, it has reaffirmed Kelly’s drive to push for the resources needed to keep associates in school districts and in the state.

“And so we as parents, I know we’re just waiting for the funds and the support that we need to make sure our students get what they deserve” said Burhn. “That I know just locally, you talk with your local legislature, ensure that they know that every dollar goes into student support. It’s critical and it’s going to be used to really help these kiddos thrive.”