Hundreds of jobs, many with good pay and benefits, are waiting to be filled in local schools.
Reflecting a national trend, districts are struggling to fill positions, especially paraeducators, bus drivers and kitchen workers.
A survey of district web sites showed almost 300 vacancies in Spokane County schools and another 140 in Kootenai County.
At the Central Valley School District, the situation is serious enough to warrant holding a job fair in the middle of the school year.
It will run on Tuesday from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the district’s new Teaching and Learning Center at 2218 N. Molter Road in Liberty Lake.
The district has almost 60 vacant full- and part-time positions.
“It’s a difficult job market right now,” said Corey Groh, the district’s Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations. “We’re finding that our classified positions are not having the same number of applications in the past.”
To boost interest, Central Valley is offering sign-on bonuses of $1,500 for new bus drivers and $750 for new bus aides, cooks and custodians. The district also is boosting pay by $2 an hour for another hard-to-fill position: paraeducator.
Groh also touted the district’s “excellent benefits package” along with the chance for prospective employees to “give back to their community in a rewarding job.”
However, that pitch has been met with indifference around the country, where the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened retirements for some and kept new retirees at home.
“Life choices,” Groh called it.
Other reasons for the K-12 chaos include subpar wages, tough work environments, pandemic protocols and political disputes.
And while most of the shortages are among classified positions, some districts are in dire need of more certificated teacher substitutes.
“We hired many of our substitutes to permanent positions,” said Marla Nunberg, director of communications at Central Valley.
Other districts have lost employees to COVID-related restrictions such as mask and vaccine mandates. Coincidentally or not, more than half of the 43 current vacancies at the Mead School District came open after the Oct. 18 deadline for receiving the COVID vaccine.
The labor shortage isn’t hitting all districts equally. The area’s largest district, 30,000-student Spokane Public Schools, had only 42 full- and part-time vacancies listed on its web site on Monday.
Meanwhile, East Valley, with only 4,200 students, listed 44 openings as of Monday; of those, 16 appeared since the vaccine deadline.
Elsewhere, Deer Park has 16 openings (six since Oct. 18) and Freeman and Riverside nine each.
The fast-growing Lakeland district has 38 vacancies for an enrollment of about 4,600.
The crisis is national.
According to a survey conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 8 by the Education Week Research Center, 40% of district leaders describe their current staff shortages as “severe” or “very severe.”
Slightly more than three-quarters of respondents said they’re having trouble finding enough substitutes to cover teacher absences; 68 % said bus drivers are hard to come by; and 55% said they’re struggling to fill open positions for paraprofessionals and instructional aides.
Openings that would normally attract hundreds of applicants are going to under-qualified candidates or remain unfilled, even with higher wages and recruitment bonuses fueled by federal relief aid.
When people do get hired, they’re taking time off more often because they’re sick or were exposed to someone who may have COVID-19.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public schools and universities nationally fell short of typical hiring goals by 161,000 jobs in September “as they struggled to find enough workers as the school year started.”
Many districts have resorted to asking employees to take on additional responsibilities, such as Spokane briefly using administrative personnel to drive students to school.
According to the EdWeek survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they’ve done that this year.
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