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School systems still hiring

This banner hanging on a school bus in Haywood County advertises the need for bus drivers. Hannah McLeod photo This banner hanging on a school bus in Haywood County advertises the need for bus drivers. Hannah McLeod photo

With the beginning of the school year right around the corner, school systems across North Carolina are struggling to fill a wide range of positions. Schools in the western part of the state are no different, and every school system in The Smoky Mountain News’ coverage area has several positions still open. 

Earlier this month, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said the staff shortage in North Carolina schools is a “crisis that is having a significant impact on our students.” 

Throughout the pandemic, educators have left the field in record numbers as the occupation changes at breakneck pace. First, teachers were required to pivot completely to online teaching, before moving to a hybrid plan in which they had to teach students both online and in person. What’s more, due to learning loss caused by the pandemic, even more students are in need of additional or remedial services. Now, as inflation causes rising prices, teacher’s in the state continue to make less than their counterparts in other states.

North Carolina teachers make $10,000 below the national average for public school teachers, even when accounting for local supplements. Local supplements do make a difference though, which makes it difficult for rural school systems to compete with counties that have more funding available to offer teachers. On top of all this, fewer people are enrolling in colleges of education. 

During the August State Board of Education meeting, Davis and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt defended a plan, not yet in place, to revise the state’s teacher licensure program that they say will help address the shortage of teachers in North Carolina. The plan seeks, among other things, to create multiple pathways in which people without an education degree, or in some cases even a bachelor’s degree, can teach while earning an education degree. The plan would also put in place more mentoring opportunities for teachers, as well as increase teacher pay.

“Teachers are the part that everybody focuses on, but right now it’s getting harder to recruit and retain all staff at all levels,” said Swain County Human Resources Director Thomas Dills during a presentation last school year. 

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All four counties in the Smoky Mountain News’ coverage area are currently hiring bus drivers, custodians and athletic coaches. Last year’s state-mandated increase to $15 per hour for all hourly personnel in public schools has done little to help fill these positions. 

According to local school job boards, Jackson County Schools currently is hiring for more than 70 positions across the county. Open positions range from sports coaches to support staff to full-time, classroom educators. However, many of those positions could be filled by the same person, meaning the school system may not need 70 bodies. For example, it is not uncommon for a classroom teacher to fill a coaching role, or a custodian to also drive a school bus. 

Both Macon and Swain County Schools are hiring for around 10 positions. Both are hiring for bus drivers, in addition to other support personnel and classroom teachers. 

“We do have a shortage of bus drivers, as does every other school system in the entire nation it seems,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Chris Baldwin during the July school board meeting. “We do have good news from the state, with regard to the minimum hourly rate, which has gone to $15 an hour. That should attract additional folks, but we are currently short two half routes and two full routes. We need to address that prior to Aug. 29.”

Bus driving requires an odd set of hours that is prohibitive to working most other jobs. Drivers need to be available early in the morning and throughout the late afternoon and evening. 

“Anything that we can do to attract additional bus drivers would be helpful,” said Baldwin. “We do have a number of clerical workers, custodians and teachers who drive buses. The issues with clerical workers and custodians that drive buses is that we may have to get them to overtime and we have done that in the past.”

According to Baldwin, that overtime comes out of custodian pay, not bus driver pay, which means it comes from local funds. Some custodians in Macon County who drive school buses have had their custodial hours reduced to remain within the 40-hour work week while driving a bus and doing custodial work. However, this schedule presents its own problems, as that person may drive a school bus in the morning, work as a custodian until lunch, and then be off the clock until they have to come back and drive a bus in the evening. 

“That’s a big break in their day. They end up spending money to go home or go somewhere else,” said Baldwin. “They basically have to drive to work twice. It’s not very attractive to staff. Overtime is obviously a better situation for them and better for us because they are more reliable, but it’s more expensive. And we still have a problem attracting bus drivers.”

Haywood County Schools is hiring for over 50 positions. Several bus drivers are needed, as well as school nutrition workers, in addition to a wide array of classroom teaching and administrative positions. Again, several of these positions are ones that could be taken on by a person already working another job in the school system. 

According to Haywood County Schools Human Resources Director Jason Heinz, some open positions have been filled, but are not removed from advertising until the applicant is completely vetted. While there are a few more support staff positions open right now than what is usually seen this time of year, Heinz says the number of teaching positions is not unusual. 

“We expect to have them filled by the end of the month,” said Heinz. “If they are not filled by the start of school, we would have to combine some classes or place a substitute teacher in the room until the position is filled.”

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1 comment

  • And why do you think kids are abandoning the idea of going to college? Let me guess.... the prohibitive cost and debt incurred, the Marxist brainwashing, the Woke culture just to name a few.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 08/12/2022

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