Speech therapists are difficult to hire because competition for their services is stiff.
Marion County Special Education Cooperative needs another one. Kate Barlow, a speech pathologist with the cooperative, will be leaving after the end of the current school year.
David Sheppard, executive director of the cooperative, pointed to the fact that speech pathologists need a master’s degree for certification, a factor that adds to the difficulty in finding one.
“It’s hard for us to get somebody,” Sheppard said.
The speech pathologist job opening is already advertised.
“With this resignation there are only three left, and to be fully staffed we need four,” Sheppard said.
One tactic he’s used over the years has proven to be some help.
“I think the key is to get some sort of feeder system where I can do internships,” Sheppard said.
Sometimes speech therapists who come to the county for internship find they like rural life, Sheppard said.
“You’ve got to get creative with trying to keep those people in a small market,” he noted.
The cooperative has a lead on some graduates coming from Wichita State University, Sheppard said.
The cooperative assigns speech therapists according to caseload, which usually means the therapists must travel between school districts. Typically each therapist works with about 50 students. One does early childhood programs in addition to an infant/toddler program, Sheppard said.
“Two years ago we never did find anybody,” Sheppard said. “I just paid our three we had and paid them extra salary to compensate for extra-heavy caseload.”
Stacey Parks has been a speech pathologist since 1999 and has worked for Marion County Special Education Cooperative for all but two of those years.
Parks did a semester’s internship in Marion County before coming to work here. Her husband is originally from the county.
The small towns here suit her, and she finds the county a good place to raise her children.
“It’s nice to be with a small community,” Parks said.
She works with infants and toddlers as well as school-age students, seeing about 35 kids once or twice a week.
“When I covered just school-age kids, I had a case load of probably about 50,” Parks said.
She likes the variety of kids she works with.
“No two years are the same,” Parks said. “I get to work with preschoolers, I get to work with middle-schoolers. It definitely keeps me on my toes, though.”
Parks said she’s seen the cooperative go through the search process before.
“It’s been hard to be full-staffed through the years,” Parks said.
She’s seen some school districts go to telepractice for speech pathology services, but prefers to work with her clients face-to-face.
“I think that direct interaction is important,” Parks said.
The cooperative also needs to hire a nurse to fill a vacancy soon to be created by the retirement of Jane King.
“We’ve put ads out there for nurses,” Sheppard said.
For this purpose, an RN, not an LPN, is necessary, and the nurse needs to have a background in working with pediatric patients.
Additionally, the cooperative needs to hire an interpreter. The cooperative is contemplating paying the cost for a local person to take needed classes to learn to do interpreting, with an agreement that they will work for the cooperative, Sheppard said.
The cooperative can offer competitive health insurance plans and salary, but some towns are able to offer more, Sheppard said. Next year’s funding might make finding a replacement harder than it already is.
“We’re going to lose at least $21,000 a year total on state funding if we remain at the fte we’re at now,” Sheppard said.