District U-46 launches program to help support staff like bus drivers become teachers, nurses, more

BARTLETT, Ill. (WLS) -- District U-46, the second-largest school district in Illinois, has launched a new program that reimburses district employees for tuition to become teachers or do work that's greatly needed by the district.

Laura Taets has driven a bus for U-46 for 14 years, and said now that her kids are older she's ready for another challenge. The 43-year-old wants to be a teacher.

"I can do more. More for the community, more for U-46," Taets said.

When she mentioned the idea to the Superintendent Tony Sanders he said he'd look into it. He had been looking for an incentive to attract and retain employees in a competitive market.

This week he introduced the reimbursement program, for employees from bus drivers to secretaries. Teachers in the district have their own incentives for continuing education. In fact, tuition reimbursement helped the superintendent earn his doctorate in March.

"I would not be superintendent of this district if it were not for tuition reimbursement the board set up for me," Sanders said.

But it's a relatively new concept for other education support employees.

Registered nurse Lizz LaRue has her Bachelor's degree, but needs 10 hours of class credit to get her certification as a school nurse. She was one of the first to apply for the reimbursement program.

"This allows us who are not teaching to have opportunities to grow and give back," she said.

LaRue estimated the tuition for the classes she needs will cost about $8,000. The district board has allocated $1.4 million for the first year of the program. Sanders said the district needs employees at a number of positions, and filling them with staff already working in the district benefits everyone.

"This is aimed at bus drivers, para-educators, support personnel who otherwise would not have an opportunity to go back to school," he said.

Employees can apply to the program starting Thursday. If accepted, classes start in the fall.
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