Over the past few weeks, the scope of the staffing crisis in our public schools has become glaringly apparent.
Of course, the pandemic is part of the problem. This year, staff are required to stay home when experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as well as when they must isolate, quarantine, or care for their own children who may be required to stay home.
But this staffing crisis pre-dates the pandemic, and it’s a reflection of our unsustainable working conditions and the deterioration of student supports in our schools. Together, they pose a real threat to the viability of our public school system.
The Scope of the Problem
The staffing shortage impacts every school community, every student, and every staff member. Here are some numbers to help illustrate the situation:
- As of last week, there were 146 certified positions still posted and unfilled in PPS.
- We have a historic shortage of substitute educators. While the list of substitutes in PPS typically includes over 800 names, this year there are only 528.
- Between September 1 and October 5, there were a total of 1,326 unfilled substitute jobs. (By comparison, the same period of time in 2019-20 had 164 unfilled jobs.)
- One day last month PPS had 122 unfilled substitute jobs.
The gaps are being filled in any way possible. Building administrators are covering classrooms, as are instructional coaches, counselors, and others. Our TOSAs and all licensed central-office staff (including central office administrators) have been asked to substitute in our schools. And of course, classroom teachers are being asked to cover classes during their planning time.
At a time when educators have MORE on their plates than ever before, this is causing an incredible strain and it is not sustainable.
The staffing shortage is not unique to licensed teachers. Here are some more numbers:
- PPS is short over 40 Custodians.
- There are more than 30 open positions in Nutrition Services.
- There are almost 80 open positions for Paraeducators and Educational Assistants.
- The District continues to be short at least 20 bus drivers, even after cancelling numerous routes.
- The District is still trying to fill over a dozen administrator positions.
These are all positions that are FUNDED and POSTED. The problem is that people are not seeking, accepting, and choosing to stick with these jobs.
It is also important to note that this staffing shortage is also not unique to PPS. Across the state and across the country, districts are facing similar struggles.
SO WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
In the short term, PAT has been working with the District to explore all pathways to immediately increase the substitute pool. Last week, TSPC announced that it is temporarily reducing requirements for substitute educators, in an attempt to address the shortage state-wide. PAT is also supportive of all proposals from our fellow PPS employee unions to attract and retain more custodians, nutrition workers, bus drivers, educational assistants, and para-professionals.
However, short term solutions are not enough. The labor shortages we are experiencing now result from the perpetual under-funding and under-staffing of our schools, and the increasingly impossible demands of our jobs. We have been asked to do “more with less” for decades, and now our schools are paying the price.
The pandemic has made it clear that in addition to our students’ educational needs, our public schools are essential to the mental health and wellness of our children, as well as the well-being of parents, and the functionality of our entire economy. Considering all that is at stake, it is essential that we invest in long-term solutions to make our schools places where talented and dedicated adults SEEK to build their careers, and can find the support necessary to stick with it for decades.
What changes to the system do you believe are needed to make a career in education one that you would recommend to the young people you teach? We owe it to our students to defend the sustainability of our profession and of public schools.