Schools across the country are facing staff and supply shortages. The problem worsened amid the pandemic as schools returned to in-person learning.
Throughout the St. Louis area school districts are feeling the sting of these shortages, including St. Louis public schools. It has lost 105 teachers, 112 staff and the supply of substitute teachers is scarce, Superintendent Kelvin Adams said.
“Normally we would have a long queue [of substitutes] go to the screen, ”Adams said. “This line is much shorter than it has been in the past.”
Part of the problem is that many teachers in the district have retired. Others are uncomfortable coming back to class. Adams said there is no quick fix to this shortage, especially as more staff and teachers are feeling the brunt of burnout. The district tried to recruit people and even offer financial incentives, like bonuses. He didn’t move the needle.
“What we’re finding is that with some of our vendors, these bonuses don’t make much of a difference in terms of input from people,” Adams said. “So I think we’re just going to have to be strategic. “
Adams is meeting with school leaders this week to discuss ways to address the shortage.
The shortage of teachers is not the only problem. Adams said the lack of bus drivers is an even bigger problem. Bus drivers call daily, which affects bus routes. Adams said explaining to parents that school buses are unreliable has been difficult.
“[We] let them know the buses are going to be late or the buses won’t show up, ”Adams said. “[We’re] work with taxi services to drop off and pick up children.
Reduced meal options
Teacher and staff shortages are just a few of the challenges facing many school districts in the greater St. Louis area. Declines in warehouse workers and truck drivers nationwide have made it difficult to get some food items like beef and chicken in school cafeterias.
Ferguson-Florissant School District spokesperson Onye Hollomon said school officials had to cut back on school menu items for this to work. She said they were sticking to the choices of appetizers that students prefer that also meet nutritional and dietary requirements.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Hollomon said. “We’ve put up signs in all of our schools and in the cafeteria just to let people know that due to supplier shortages, some items may not be available. “
She said there might come a time when the staff may need to be even more creative, such as going to the grocery store themselves to make sure the kids are fed. However, a reduced menu is not the only problem the neighborhood faces. For the first time, the district had to use a recruiting agency to fill food service positions within the district.
“We’ve never really had to do this before,” Hollomon said. “So it’s especially since the start of the pandemic. Normally we would have a lot of people applying for our food service positions in the district. “
The understaffing is something Karen LaCaze is familiar with. She is the Cafeteria Director of Collinsville Community Unit School District 10 and Executive Director 3 of Sodexo. She oversees all food services in the school district.
LaCaze said she was looking for more staff. She had scheduled 15 interviews, but only three people showed up.
“This year the labor shortage has been unreal,” said LaCaze. “If we have staff, it puts even more pressure on the staff to juggle what we’re already doing.”
But she is even more concerned about what it could mean for her reduced crew if he needs to be quarantined. She said despite her team’s best efforts, the quarantine could mean the menu would be changed to only contain cold meals. Still, LaCaze said his district was one of the “lucky ones.”
“We are unique in the fact that Collinsville has a large storage area,” LaCaze said. “Some weeks the products I want come in and sometimes they don’t. So when I order, I order a lot on the product, so if it arrives, we can store it for a short time.
No quick fix
Like St. Louis public schools, Normandy Schools Collaborative has lost 16 teachers. A third of its bus driver positions are vacant. While not as bad as last year, Sarah Jamison, director of human resources, said the hiring pool to recruit from is bleak.
The district launched the Normandy Teaching Fellows program to address the issue. The program is designed for people who have a passion for teaching, but who may not have a degree in education. Fellows will be able to obtain their certification within 12 to 18 months. All of this is paid for by the district.
“It doesn’t just help us deal with our teacher shortage,” Jamison said. “We are able to attract very qualified people who are interested in teaching, but we also help them to start another career or to develop the career in which they have decided to go.
Normandy Schools Collaborative even increased the salaries of short-term occasional teachers to $ 130 per day. If short-term replacements are in the class for 20 consecutive days, they will be converted at the long-term rate of $ 175 per day. This is one of the ways the district is recruiting more people to get them interested in applying for the scholarship program for certification.
Other districts like the Ferguson-Florissant School District hope to attract more teachers with better pay. Hollomon said teachers start at $ 40,000 a year with benefits. The average salary is over $ 67,000. She said the district tries to be competitive and pay more to attract qualified candidates into the classroom.
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