Summit School District facing shortage of substitute teachers and bus drivers as economic uncertainty sways applicants
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the number of current job openings for the Summit School District.
KEYSTONE — Facing a shortage of substitute teachers and school bus drivers, Summit School District leaders are pushing recruitment.
While the district’s 26 listed openings reach nearly all aspects of the district’s operations, Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. said the district is focusing its recruitment efforts on positions for substitute teachers and bus drivers.
With high unemployment rates, it might seem like entities such as the school district should have no trouble hiring. However, the opposite has proven to be true as districts across the state scramble to fill open positions.
General anxiety and uncertainty about future funding has made people wary of entering into positions, Smith said.
“It’s limiting the amount of applicants we’ve seen, because they’re thinking that this is an unstable marketplace right now,” he said.
For the current school year, the district’s budget allocates funding for all its positions. However, the district is expecting about $1.5 million in funding cuts for the 2021-22 school year, a number that could be increased depending on how enrollment shakes out. The district will know the result of the state’s enrollment count by late 2020 or early 2021.
“Next year, we’ll start to have those conversations, starting in January 2021, about what it’s going to look like with the realities that we’re facing at that time,” Smith said.
For substitutes especially, there is a lot of anxiety around joining the school district right now, as fluctuating models of learning can create confusion. The district is currently in a hybrid model, with students and teachers moving between online and in-person learning.
“This is uncharted territory,” Smith said. “If you are interested in being a part of the school district as a sub, there may be times where you are in person. There may be times where you have to pivot online. So just the uncertainty of that has presented quite a few challenges.”
Despite the challenges, the district has been able to hire several substitutes in the past couple of weeks, Smith said.
The district is providing training on health and safety protocols as well as best practices for instruction during this time to increase substitutes’ comfort levels, Smith said.
While substitute openings remain, district staff, including Smith, have had to fill in when necessary.
“Dr. Smith may step into a classroom, or building administration may need to step into a classroom, to provide instruction during that particular time period,” Smith said. “Our principals, our central officers at one time were building leaders or teachers, they still have that certification. So we’re leveraging what that looks like.”
In addition to substitutes, the school district is facing a shortage in bus drivers. To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the district has limited the number of students allowed on a bus at a time to 24, which means more limited bus routes. It would need to hire more bus drivers to allow for expanded routes.
The district has only 11 of the 18 available bus driver positions filled, Chief Operations Officer Drew Adkins said at a school district town hall Tuesday, Oct. 20.
“The more drivers we can get, the more we can expand routes,” Adkins said at the meeting.
The district is also looking to expand its team of custodians to help with cleaning and disinfecting efforts in response to the virus. The district has Wednesdays set aside for these custodians to clean the entire buildings.
So far, the district has worked with temp agencies to hire temporary employees, but it’s looking to hire people for permanent custodial positions.
Despite the shortage in substitutes and bus drivers, the district has not had issues hiring teachers, Smith said. The district brought on 33 teachers for the 2020-21 school year.
Among all staff, Smith said everyone has been flexible in their efforts to adapt to the new school year. In addition to issuing surveys, the district has been engaging in more frequent conversations with staff to get a sense of where everyone is at.
“Even though people are overwhelmed because of the uncertainty and the constant changes from a public health perspective, what we’ve been able to demonstrate and what people are showing is that they’re meeting the moment,” Smith said.
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As the Summit School District prepares for all online instruction, adults are focusing their attention on the health and well-being of the students.