Schools are struggling to be hired when students return
Clallam County public school districts are struggling to hire enough workers as they prepare for students to return for the new school year, and local superintendents are hoping members of the community will come forward.
The Port Angeles School District has said it is “urgently” hiring paraeducators, backup teachers for emergencies, backup bus drivers, maintenance staff and secretaries. According to district spokeswoman Carmen Geyer, there are currently more than 30 positions for educators in the district.
“Like the rest of the country, we have a shortage of replacements,” Geyer said in an interview on Thursday.
In Port Angeles, Geyer said in addition to the disruptions to the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, the school district recently retired nine paraeducators and other educators remained on the staff but changed positions. Some workers also rose in the workforce, Geyer said, with some substitute teachers becoming paraeducators and some paraeducators becoming teachers.
“We have to get creative,” said Geyer. During the staffing shortage the previous school year, “we had administrators filling the classrooms so we didn’t have to cancel school or classes.”
Paraeducators are usually part-time employees who work in the classroom and assist teachers with classes and clerical work. You must have specific credentials, but starting with the 2019-2020 school year, Washington State added additional requirements such as test scores, college degrees, or a specified number of college hours.
Part of the problem school districts face is that some of the jobs are part-time and workers don’t qualify for health care or retirement benefits, said Superintendent David Bingham of the Crescent School District in Joyce, and bus drivers generally work split shifts, mornings and in the afternoon.
Bingham said he’s combined several part-time positions in the past to create one full-time position.
“I have bus drivers who do janitorial work who work in classrooms,” Bingham said Friday. “We say, ‘I have a three-hour daycare position, would you be interested in working in a classroom?'”
But classroom positions require credentials that bus drivers or janitors don’t always have, Bingham said.
Geyer said the Port Angeles District offers ways to help workers obtain those credentials, such as B. Applying for emergency certification and paying for the fingerprints and background checks required for classroom work.
According to spokeswoman Megan Lyke, the Sequim School District is also offering to request emergency replacement certificates.
Full-time positions could attract applicants from outside the area, Bingham said, but the majority of paraeducator positions in his district have been community members, often with children in the schools.
Districts have mostly been able to find enough full-time teachers, but several county superintendents noted that the applicant pool for these positions was significantly smaller than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, creating a demand for substitute teachers.
“Cape Flattery has seen many vacancies related to our certified teaching staff,” said Superintendent Michelle Parkin of the Cape Flattery School District, which includes schools in Clallam Bay and Neah Bay.
“We had to mobilize all of our resources to ensure all of our school campuses could be opened safely,” Parkin said Friday.
“If anyone is interested in deputizing, recruitment efforts are still in full swing.”
Superintendent Diana Reaume of the Quillayute Valley School District in Forks said the district has done a good job of retaining teachers during the pandemic, but this year many workers have left the area and a lack of affordable housing has made hiring new teachers difficult.
Reaume also suggested that the pandemic and the politicization of education nationally have turned people away from education as a career, and that wages for a paraeducator are comparable to jobs like fast-food workers, which don’t require credentials.
“Education is so politicized that one hesitates to say a thing or two,” Reaume said. “You have to be here to serve every student, the political appeal is challenging and goes against our schools.”
According to QVSD’s website, the starting salary for a paraeducator is $16.87 per hour, and according to Indeed.com, the average hourly wage at McDonald’s restaurants in Washington was $15.58 per hour. The state minimum wage is $14.49 an hour.
Reaume said teachers and school staff are now having to deal with additional responsibilities as some students return from distance learning, addressing behavioral issues and bringing students back to school.
“There’s no on/off switch,” Reaume said. “You just don’t go back to normal that easily.”
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]