Great year for local schools, but hiring is a challenge

** Dayton Public Schools and Horizon Science Charters have said intervention specialists who teach special education students are difficult to hire. Earlier this summer, Dayton said it needed to hire nearly 30 of them. Human resources director David Harmon said on the eve of Wednesday’s first day of school that they still had five of those vacancies.

** Fairborn Superintendent Gene Lolli noted that senior math and science teaching positions are difficult to fill, as are speech language pathologists.

** And almost every school in the area said they are still trying to hire more bus drivers – a problem that was serious two years ago and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the opportunities for driving commercial warehouses and trucks have increased locally.

Legend

Students at Eastmont Elementary School in Dayton wait to board the bus at the end of the first day of school on Wednesday August 18, 2021. MARSHALL GORBY STAFF

Jobs, health issues

Nancy Haskell, assistant professor of economics at the University of Dayton, said one of the main reasons for labor market shortages like these is the balancing of pay rates against COVID risks.

“The risk of COVID remains an issue, especially in places like schools where employees interact with large numbers of other people,” Haskell said. And in K-5 elementary schools, not all of these students are vaccinated.

While restaurants and other employers have raised wages to attract employees, wages in many school jobs are governed by multi-year union contracts. And despite the increase in COVID cases in schools that are Petri dishes in normal years, most local K-12 school assistants and catering staff work in schools that have made masks optional. .

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Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Teachers’ Federation, said many factors play into the decline of applicants for school jobs – salaries, COVID risks, angry parents and employee stress.

She said she has seen large numbers of teachers resign over the past year in some of the state’s small suburban districts. This same high turnover has occurred in some districts locally.

Superintendent Doug Cozad said Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools will have more than 30 new staff this year, up from 19 new staff in the previous three years combined. Cozad said Bellbrook was struggling to find bus drivers, special needs helpers and guards.

The smaller Brookville district also said drivers and guards are scarce.

“We’ve seen more turnover this year than at any time in the past 20 years,” Brookville Superintendent Tim Hopkins said of his 21 new employees.

Every school is different

Despite the struggle, Brookville has managed to fill all of their positions, and they are not alone. A Dayton Daily News survey of dozens of local schools found that a group of Miami County schools said they were able to hire everyone they needed (Piqua, Miami East and Covington), and the same was true of the local Catholic high schools of Alter, Carroll and Chaminade Julienne.

Milton-Union Superintendent Brad Ritchey said after last year’s uncertainty, more school districts have hired this year and more staff have been willing to move from one district to another, affecting jobs. smaller districts like his.

“We had good candidates, but our struggle was the ripple effect of job vacancies in the bigger and richer districts,” Ritchey said. “Hiring there creates more openings, often in smaller, more rural districts. “

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Oakwood officials have said they fit the “hire more” profile this year, having left some positions open during the uncertainty of 2020-21.

“This decision has allowed the district to have almost double the number of hires needed in 2021 compared to other years,” said Allyson Couch, director of education and human resources. “Although we have candidate pools, the total number of applicants for certified positions is down from previous years. “

Some feared there was an exceptional school staff crisis this year, after some surveys showed thousands of educators were considering career changes in the pandemic year.

But a RAND survey of hundreds of school leaders nationwide, released last week, found most of them had not reported a mass exodus of staff.

An additional recruitment challenge

Like many large, very poor urban school districts, Dayton’s public schools struggle to attract enough applicants for all of their openings each year.

But this year was a particular challenge. In addition to normal turnover, the DPS intended to fill 113 newly created positions that are funded by millions of federal ESSER (COVID relief aid) money. This list included 85 new early childhood teachers aiming to get young students to grade level quickly.

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At Tuesday’s school board meeting, 2 hours before classes started, Harmon said he was delighted to announce that DPS has filled every new ESSER position. The district hosted a hiring event after the hiring event this summer to make it happen.

But given the size of the DPS staff, despite 58 hires in the last seven days before the start of the school year, the district still had 50 open positions in regular jobs spread across the district – five response specialists, 12 office workers. , four guards and others.

Dayton was not alone in taking on this hiring challenge. Fairborn intended to use the ESSER money to hire 50 new teachers this year for math coaching and other interventions, and Huber Heights planned to hire around 30 tutors to work at the elementary school level.

Crucial, difficult subs

After bus drivers, the category of employee local schools need the most is replacement – not just teachers, but sub-conservatives, food service workers, classroom aides and others. .

Schools learned last year that they had to be prepared for dozens of staff to suddenly be forced out for two weeks in COVID quarantine if they came into close contact with an infected person.

Federal and state quarantine guidelines have loosened so that if people wear masks, they generally don’t have to self-quarantine. Despite this, most schools refused to impose masks. This means that staff shortages are likely.

Haskell, the economist, said that although public sector education employment is down from pre-pandemic levels, it is still early enough to identify significant trends.

“Labor shortages will become less of a problem if and when health risks decrease and we better understand the variants and / or deploy the booster vaccines,” Haskell said.

But this point is not there yet. Cropper raised long-term concern that with fewer teachers leaving college, high turnover or retirements could hurt schools. But she also raised an immediate concern about staffing.

“If I am a retired person or an elderly person, do I want to (under) board a bus full of children who could wear the delta variant? Cropper asked.

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