When you're in the business of educating students, facing a shortage that keeps you from providing a service can be difficult.
"I think the two biggest emotions are a great deal of sadness and a great deal of frustration," said Cindy Zahrte, Tomah School District superintendent.
This year, the Tomah School District had to send a letter to about half of their speech therapy students telling them the district can't provide them with that service at this time.
"We understand their disappointment and their frustration," said Zahrte. "And we feel the same way."
That's because the district has spent months trying to find SLPs to fill two open positions in their school system.
Lisa Klein's Question: "Have you gotten applicants for these two positions?"
"No," said Paul Skofronick, Tomah School District director of pupil services. "Like I said, there's no one out there."
And here's why. In order to be a speech and language pathologist you have to have a masters degree. The total number of students applying to Graduate Communicative Disorders Programs last year in Wisconsin is just under 15-hundred. Of those students, only 154 are accepted into the programs. Why so few? It's because of regulations.
"Those requirements are fairly stringent," said Dr. Marie Stadler, UW- Eau Claire Communication Sciences and Disorders department chair. "And one of them that is most costly, in terms of resource,s is the personel to supervise each one of those students individually a minimum of 400 clinical clock hours during the time that they're in the graduate program."
UW- Eau Claire is one of seven universities in Wisconsin to offer a graduate program. The university graduates between 16 and 20 students a year. And to make the shortage even more pronounced, not all of those students will decide to work in Wisconsin schools.
"So, even given the number of students we're able to graduate every year, along with our sister universities in the state, many of those graudate students will go on to work in hospitals or nursing homes or birth to 3 or private practice or, of course, move out of state," said Stadler.
And there's another factor. If a graduate decides to work in a Wisconsin School District, they also have to be certified by the Department of Public Instruction.
"The licensing requirements that we have... that we have to follow in order for someone to be a highly qualified educator to work in the school system... basically is very difficult, very rigorous programming," said Skofronick, "and it does limit the number of candidates that you can find."
So the Tomah School District is working with the DPI to do everything it can to work towards a solution to the problem. The district plans to hire aides to help take care of paperwork for the SLPs, and also make some changes to the therapists' schedules.
"We've moved to a 3:1 model where our therapists are working three weeks specifically with students and one week working on paperwork," said Zahrte. "With the idea if an appointment is missed, we're able to pick that appointment up during that fourth week of service."
But the district knows its efforts aren't going to solve the problem. A problem which is bigger than just one individual school district.
"We want to be providing those services," said Zahrte. "We need to as a state, the DPI, the Speech Language Association... we've go to get people together. We have an obligation to get people together to solve this problem."