School Year Begins With Workforce Shortages

Rising first graders walk to their classroom at the start of the day during summer session at Laurel Elementary in Oakland on June 11, 2021. Laurel is a hub program for five district schools hosting 120 kids for the summer with a focus on resocialization in addition to academics. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

The start of the 2020 school year is being defined by two key headlines; the handling of potential Covid outbreaks and the number of personnel missing from key positions in districts nationwide.

NPR reports on the nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, which is adding strain to a tense return to in-person in many districts. The motivations for the shortages are multi-layered, and not easily solved.

Many drivers were furloughed during the COVID-19 school closures in 2020, while others took the chance to retire. Respondents to the survey were most likely to say that the pay they were able to offer was a major factor affecting their ability to recruit drivers. ( reports the median school bus driver earns $35,421 per year, which varies by region.)

Brand-new bus drivers can’t be hired on the spot like retail or fast-food workers; they need commercial driver’s licenses. A second factor in the shortage, Macysyn pointed out, is that in many places over the past year and a half, departments of motor vehicles were closed or had limited operations, so people couldn’t get their road tests or update their qualifications.

A third concern cited was safety. School buses are full of children, and children under 12 can’t yet be vaccinated against COVID-19. Macysyn says that while measures such as distancing and opening windows seem to be pretty effective, “we certainly understand if folks have those concerns,” especially if they have risk factors.

In California, teacher shortages in some districts are being compounded by a lack of substitute teachers. From Cal Matters:

According to County Superintendent Scott Lay, the county went from having about 200 substitute teachers before the pandemic to less than 70 today. As a result, principals like Rhoden are forced to place counselors and administrators in classrooms. Even then, Rhoden fell short three substitutes on Monday.

The substitute shortage is worsened by an underlying teacher shortage. Several district officials interviewed by CalMatters said they started the school year with some classrooms being assigned a long-term substitute.

Large and small-sized school districts from Boston to Arkansas alike are seeking staffing alternatives and unique compensation structures to entice hiring, but with growing concerns over coronavirus delta variant infections, many parents and potential workers are steering clear of the job blitz.

“We’ve been looking like crazy for everybody you can think of: janitors, cafeteria workers, psychologists, counselors, bus drivers,” Aaron Bass, chief executive of EastSide, told the Post. “I wish I could use that money for buses, but I can’t because we don’t have drivers. It’s one more economic ripple from the pandemic.”