Portland is struggling to fill many vacancies for ed techs.
A Maine classroom. Credit: CBS 13

A severe shortage of ed techs in Portland’s special education program is forcing the school district to consider a rotating four-day week for some students if the situation gets much worse.

The school year started with more than 500 openings for ed techs throughout Maine. Portland is still trying to fill 20 to 30 vacant ed tech positions, along with a significant number of teachers, therapists and other specialists, for its special education program.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said the district barely has enough ed techs right now for special needs students.

“If we’re in a situation where we’re not able to have ed techs covering for those who are out, we would potentially need to put kids on four-day weeks,” Botana said.

He said the rotating four-day week would only be a last resort and would only be implemented if the district can’t move other ed techs to fill in.

“This whole thing is about us trying to be proactive, reorganizing that we have significant shortages of ed techs,” Botana said. “So that those shortages don’t impact the services for our most disabled students.”

Statewide advocates for special needs students said a four-day week would not only adversely affect those students, but also likely violate federal law.

“Every child who has a special education in place is entitled to a free and appropriate public education,” Carries Woodcock of the Maine Parent Federation said. “The staffing shortages are very concerning. And I do sympathize with our school districts that are having a hard time staffing their programs.”

Woodcock’s daughter, Sami, has Down syndrome. She’s a freshman at Thornton Academy, and does well in mainstream classes.

In the Portland district, about 100 special needs students require ed techs to work one-on-one with them the entire day.

“I equate them to the nurses of hospitals,” Woodcock said. “They’re typically providing the academic instruction one on one to our students in the classrooms.”

Botana said the district is doing everything it can to hire ed techs, offering pay of $20 to $30 an hour depending on education attainment. But he said few people are applying for those jobs.

So far, the district has not had to move any ed techs into special ed programs.

If any special needs students are moved on a rotating basis to a four-day week, the district would be required to make up that missed instruction time.