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Area Schools Face Staffing, Substitute Shortages

Pictured is a sign in front of Falconer Central High School advertising a need for substitute teachers. P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

While school districts continue to educate, transport and support their students, officials also continue to struggle with staffing.

All across the area, districts are reporting that its staff and substitute rosters are not full — a problem that existed before COVID-19 and has now been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, said like many school systems in the state, Jamestown is also facing a substitute shortage.

“From teachers to drivers to nurses to you name it,” Whitaker said. “It was a challenge before but now it’s a huge problem. The substitute issue continues to be an issue.”

However, he said the district is also facing issues filling other educational staff roles, such as specialty teachers and administrators. He said it has also been a challenge to find nurses who are interested in working in schools.

When it comes to bus drivers, Whitaker said there are so many requirements necessary through the state Department of Transportation and other programs that it is more difficult to become a bus driver than it has been in the past.

He said in some ways, the staffing shortages have impacted the school district’s functionality.

“We’d like to know we have a pool of candidates available when somebody has natural life things whether they are end of career retirements or pending retirements in a year or two, starting a family, getting pregnant — whatever it happens to be — we need people to fill in those spots as normally and naturally move in and out of those things. So to not have the confidence that we’ll be able to find people makes it stressful for everyone,” he said.

Whitaker said while this issue has been troublesome, the district hasn’t faced problems with the range and scope of other districts in the state. He said Jamestown has been able to “just barely meet our needs.”

“We can eventually get to a minimum level of staffing we are able to maintain, but that is a stressful prospect,” he said. “For example, we have our bus mechanics and our transportation director driving as bus drivers. They can do their job — but they’re also doing another job.”

Whitaker said the district is actively looking for candidates and encourages anyone interested to inquire with the district human resources department for more information.

Joseph Reyda, Bemus Point Central School superintendent, said the district has had issues finding school cleaners and bus drivers this year.

“This is not a new problem — this is my second year here and we’ve been having difficulty finding bus drivers for three or four years,” Reyda said. “As our drivers seem to be retiring; we’re having a difficult time finding people to take their places. With bus drivers, it’s a unique position because you start very early in the morning and you have a long break in the afternoon, then you come back in the late afternoon. It has to fit what you need.”

He said the district has had issues finding candidates for these positions as well. He said the second shift timeframe can be difficult for people; however, the district did recently hire two cleaners.

When it comes to educational staff, Reyda said the district is still looking for a health-certified teacher for Maple Grove High School. He said the position has been posted since late summer. The issue is the position is certified, which requires certain specialized skills and qualifications.

“We know they’re out there, we just can’t really land one,” he said. “It’s a difficult time to find a health-certified teacher because they’re few and far between.”

Reyda said the district has a “core group” of substitute teachers, which has been adequate for the needs of the district. He said there hasn’t been a situation where they haven’t had enough substitutes as of yet.

“I just consider that very fortunate,” he said. “Of all my worries — that hasn’t risen to the level of say our bus driver situation. That’s a much more immediate concern. We have been trying to keep our community in the know about the situation with bus drivers — we’ve done everything we possibly can to try to find bus drivers.”

Reyda said there has been some interest, but many people haven’t followed through on completing the process. He invited anyone interested in a bus driving position to visit their website to apply, and also to call the bus department at the district for details for the position.

Maureen Donahue, superintendent at Southwestern, said the pool of substitutes at any given time is impacted by the number of teachers and educators looking for work.

“It goes back to the very beginning where you have an abundance of substitutes when you have an abundance of teachers in the field looking for positions,” Donahue said. “It used to be if you were hiring an elementary person or reading teacher or some other position, you’d have 50-75 applicants. Now you’re lucky if you’re getting 10 or 15. That’s only in some positions — some of the other positions like a reading teacher, science teacher, or math teacher, there’s very few applicants. It’s a shortage already — and it’s going get worse in the future.”

Donahue said the district has been trying to identify where needs will be in the district far in advance so they can plan accordingly. The district has also been trying to advertise appropriately, and sometimes, will put out anticipated vacancies as needs arise.

She said this issue is occurring across the state and has been an issue for about five years. She said it is important that students are encouraged to go into the education field if they are interested, as not as many students are showing interest as they were 10 years ago.

“I don’t know if we’re not doing enough to attract them,” Donahue said. “I think there’s other jobs out there that weren’t there 10 or 15 years ago that they’re attracted to. I can’t really put my finger on it, but some of it is that you can graduate with a four year degree and go to a higher paying job.”

Donahue said she believes it is important to stress that being a teacher is an important position as teachers are “frontline with the kids.”

“I think the benefits from it short and long term are tremendous,” she said. “I wouldn’t have picked anything else to do. Personally, I love what I do and I think we have to not downplay how important being a teacher is.”

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