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Despite Grant, N.Y. Can't Fill Spec.-Ed. Jobs

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Despite a special waiver by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will allow the city to use a $48-million federal grant to add staff to its special-education program, New York City officials say they will experience a shortage of teachers in the field this fall.

School officials say they are attempting to fill more than 700 vacant positions in the program for handicapped students. They have already hired more than 1,200 teachers as a result of the waiver allowing them to use the federal grant.

But because of a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights (ocr), the school system must follow staffing guidelines that promote racial integration of teachers in schools throughout New York's five buroughs. Robert Terte, spokesman for the city schools, said that finding special-education teachers is "a problem in itself" and that it may be complicated even further because of the agreement with ocr

Mr. Terte said the voluntary transfer plan may be creating openings in schools that for various reasons are unattractive to potential special-education teachers. Despite the hiring problems, however, the school system is continuing its search for teachers, he said.

Meanwhile, according to Mr. Terte, "We will have enough [teachers] to staff every classroom. If necessary," he added, "staff will be shifted."

Block-Grant Funds

The $48 million, which is being used to hire the special-education staff members, represents the city's share of funds from the department's community-development block grant (cdbg) program under the Emergency Supplemental Jobs Act.

That law was enacted by the Congress earlier this year to ease unemployment in cities nationwide through the creation of new jobs.

The special waiver--which was granted last month by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel R. Pierce Jr.--was required because the city also wanted to use the money to help retain the jobs of about 282 special-education teachers, according to Jack Flynn, a spokesman for the department.

New York is not the only city receiving funds that has requested such a waiver; but it is the only city that is using its cdbg money for educational purposes, he said.

"In all cases, it is up to the community to decide how to spend the money," Mr. Flynn added.

The city's decision to channel the grant into its special-education program, officials said, was influenced largely by a legal agreement reached earlier this year in a class action that challenged the city's procedures for evaluating and placing handicapped children.

The case, Jose P. v. Ambach, represents the consolidation of two other lawsuits brought on behalf of children with physical handicaps and handicapped bilingual children. The suit was filed in 1979 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Under the "stipulation of agreement" signed by attorneys representing the plaintiffs and the New York City Board of Education, the board must "open schools with sufficient numbers of special-education staff" to accommodate the anticipated number of handicapped students, according to Jeffrey Glen, special assistant corporation counsel.

Mr. Glen, who is representing the city in the lawsuit, said the school system has been working with the plaintiffs on the problem and that through their efforts the program is "certainly closer to compliance than we ever had been." But because of the size of the special-education program, he added, there is no guarantee that "every child will receive ser-vices on the day they are supposed to."

The $48-million grant increases the city's budget for special education to about $450 million for the 1983-84 school year.

School officials are expecting to serve more than 100,000 students in the special-education program this year, according to Edward Sermier, chief administrator of the school department's division of special education.

"The stipulation of agreement provides that we evaluate and place students deemed in need within 60 days and that we eliminate waiting lists," Mr. Sermier explained. "In the area of special education, there was always the expectation that there would be more children and that we would need more money."

"This division was not attended to as it should have been, in my view," said Mr. Sermier, who until recently served as the school department's budget officer. "There are some fundamental organizational problems."

Mr. Sermier said the city's decision to use the federal grant for special education was based on the program's need as a result of the lawsuit. There will be a substantial increase in the number of students to be served, he said, because of massive evaluation and placement efforts carried out by the school system this summer.

In addition to those efforts, according to Mr. Glen, school officials also have been working to make the schools more accessible to physically handicapped students. Referring to the lawsuit, he said, "It's a terribly complicated problem and there don't seem to be any simple solutions."

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