Editor's note, a previous version of this story stated the $20,000-$40,000 budget increase was for three full-time staff positions. That amount actually applies to sign-on bonuses.

Lake Travis ISD experienced an unexpected increase in its special education population during the 2019-20 school year. Staffing allocations were determined based on an estimated 12% increase, and the actual increase was closer to 29%, according to district information.

LTISD has seen annual increases in its special education population, and the department currently services about 1,081 students.

Consequently, the board of trustees unanimously approved a budget provision for the addition of three full-time or equivalent staff members for the special education department, which would be immediate hires.

Allocations for additional special education staff were approved by the board in October, yet the population’s continued growth has created the need for increased staff, according to Johnny Hill, assistant superintendent for business, financial and auxiliary services.

The exact budget implications would depend on turnover and the number of staff hired, Hill said, estimating that the total costs for sign-on bonuses could approximately range from $20,000 to $40,000. The three extra full time positions adds roughly $160,000 to the budget.

On a similar agenda item, the board approved sign-on bonuses up to $1,700 for newly hired special education staff.

Districts nationwide are experiencing shortages in special education professionals, according to information from LTISD. About 98% of U.S. school districts have reported deficits in special education staff, as stated by a study from the National Colation on Personnel Shortages in Special Education.

The sign-on bonuses were approved in an attempt to create a greater recruitment incentive for prospective hires, the district states. The largest bonus will be allocated to professional positions including special education teachers, behavior specialists, and speech and language pathologists. Paraprofessionals, which include aides, will receive a smaller bonus of $700.

“We have had vacant positions from the beginning of the year until right now,” Hill said, adding that as of the Feb. 19 meeting a total of 10 positions remain open within the special education department.

The bonus rates were compared to those of Austin ISD, which provides $1,500 for professional staff and $500 for paraprofessionals.

Hill also said the district is in the process of examining the retention rates of special education staff, a topic discussed during multiple board meetings. The information regarding staff retention will be discussed throughout the next couple of months.

The board also approved a request to established a licensed vocational nurse pay rate for summer school classes. The additional staff member would work alongside the already employed registered nurse aiding the 1,000-plus children on campus, Hill said.