MNPS promises changes after I-Team investigation exposes shortage of paraprofessionals

Metro Schools have a shortage of paraprofessionals in the system. (WSMV)

Five months after the News 4 I-Team exposed a shortage of paraprofessionals in Metro Schools there are still dozens of vacancies.

The News 4 I-Team has learned while the district’s superintendent said positive changes are underway some parents have their doubts.

Hillsboro High School currently has 16 paraprofessionals, which is a number some parents said isn’t enough.

With so many other cuts in this year’s Metro Schools budget, some parents have their doubts when the superintendent said positive changes are on the way.

Rachel Shofner, a 17-year-old, is happiest in the classroom.

It’s because she has a paraprofessional; a lifeline for a student with autism. Without her, her mother said she'd be lost along with the 10,000 other students in Metro Schools who also need paraprofessionals to help prepare them for life outside the classroom.

"These people are so important to the success of people with disabilities because they're the most vulnerable population in Metro Schools,” said Carolyn Shofner, Rachel’s mother.

When the I-Team first exposed the district's shortage of paraprofessionals last fall, there were 60 vacancies.

Five months later, 75 percent of those openings remain unfilled.

Now, Metro Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph said he wants to pay paraprofessionals more and hire more of them beyond the 45 openings.

Last fall the I-Team learned there are no rules in Tennessee requiring a certain number of teachers’ aides in the classroom. Some paraprofessionals said the reality is they're leaving the district for less stressful jobs that pay more.

One paraprofessional told News 4 in an email:“We are encouraged by Dr. Joseph’s proposal of a two-pay grade increase. If this passes, it will be a significant start towards retaining paraprofessionals and hopefully attracting new hires, both of which are critical to fully support our teachers and students. His effort signals an overdue appreciation for the level of responsibility and difficulty of the position. As we near the end of the school year, the district is currently still understaffed and the students are underserved.”Even with the $1.3 million he says he'll use to give paraprofessionals raises, it's still a beginning salary of $20,000.

When asked why he’s giving paraprofessional raises now, Joseph said “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing. Our first priority is our people and our commitment to doing that.”

“If Metro cannot fully staff its need for paraprofessionals, there will be children, very vulnerable children, at risk of harm,” said Carolyn Shofner.

Joseph is asking for a total of $942 million in the new school year’s budget. Metro Council is expected to vote on the budget in June.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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