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Staffing schools: Districts navigate challenges

By Joseph Abraham
Posted 1/18/22

SULLIVAN COUNTY –– The everyday twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted nearly all facets of society. Our schools are no exception, with staffing challenges and shortages …

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Staffing schools: Districts navigate challenges


SULLIVAN COUNTY –– The everyday twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted nearly all facets of society. Our schools are no exception, with staffing challenges and shortages being well-documented nationwide.

In an effort to see how local districts have been affected, the Democrat reached out to area superintendents, polling them on if and in what areas staff was needed, how they’ve combatted staffing challenges during the pandemic, and how the public and/or State could help.

Here’s what some of the area district leaders had to say ...

According to Eldred Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Morgano, they do not have a shortage of staff.

“On occasion if a number of people (teachers or bus drivers) are out ill, we have to get creative but we always figure it out,” he said.

Morgano added that they combatted potential staffing issues preemptively by providing bonuses to bus drivers who signed up with them, and that they now have a “cushion of drivers.”

On how the State, public, etc. could help, Morgano said the Health Department and the CDC should try to align their guidance to avoid unnecessary confusion.

“In addition, people should consider getting the vaccine and the potential benefits both to them and to others,” he said.

Over at the Fallsburg Central School District, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ivan Katz said they are looking for an additional school nurse, their bus vendor is looking for bus drivers/staff and they are interested in increasing their substitute staffing at all levels.

He added that they advertise for all available positions on an as needed basis. In addition to advertising, other ways they have combated staffing challenges are as follows …

“We have raised substitute salaries to among the highest in our area,” said Katz. “We have also created a new training program for subs to acquaint themselves with district procedures and the district's buildings.”

Dr. Katz added that they continue to work with area college placement offices and the Mid-Hudson School Study Council (MHSSC). The MHSSC works with school districts and local colleges and universities to determine staffing needs to support school districts and higher education in the Mid-Hudson region.

He added that the district also attends recruitment fairs and tries to keep salaries and benefits competitive for our area.

And finally, on how the public or State can help, Katz said, “Easing of restrictions for teachers and administrators in terms of getting certified and allowing for additional pathways towards certification would go a long way in attracting candidates to education, especially in hard to fill subject areas.”

In Monticello, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Evans reports that the district is presently seeking candidates across all departments –– teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, security attendants, custodial workers, teacher aides/assistants, and substitutes for all departments. A full list of open vacancies can be found on the district’s website.

As for tackling these staffing challenges, the district has increased daily rates for substitutes and also created five new floating substitute positions at a $200 per diem rate, with a guarantee of 175 days of work per year and the opportunity to purchase health benefits and participate in professional development.

“In addition, earlier this year, we evaluated our HR procedures and revitalized how we are processing candidates through the hiring process,” said Evans. “Qualified job candidates now have a much more streamlined experience from when they submit their application to when they receive a job offer.”

Evans added that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) is currently exploring revisions to the teacher certification process. In particular, NYSED is seeking to eliminate the requirement to pass the Educator Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), and substitute it for an integrated assessment within a “teacher candidate’s student teaching or similar clinical experience.”

“Some aspects of the certification process can be arbitrary, and I think it's a step in the right direction for NYSED to explore how to facilitate a more meaningful and streamlined certification process without sacrificing rigor,” said Evans.

“I think it's important for the public to remember that a career in public education is an excellent middle-class career choice,” he added. “Working in a school district affords job stability, excellent benefits, and the chance to make a profound difference in the lives of children.”

Sullivan BOCES District Superintendent/CEO Dr. Robert Dufour reports that they are primarily in need of teaching assistants, teacher aides and some food service staff. They also have some certificated positions available (counselors/social workers and one assistant principal opening).

On what steps they’ve taken to combat staffing issues, Dufour said, “Permitting remote work whenever possible and continuing pandemic mitigation efforts to reduce the number of staff who are out due to COVID.”

Dr. Kathleen Bressler, Interim Superintendent at the Sullivan West Central School District, told the Democrat that the district is in need of qualified substitutes for a range of positions, including: teachers, teaching assistants, aides, custodial workers, and food services workers.

Furthermore, their transportation company, First Student, is always looking for substitute bus drivers and bus aides. The district is also adding a temporary full-time nurse position.

“It is hard to predict which faculty and staff members will be affected day-to-day so it helps to have substitutes ready to come into work,” said Bressler.

She also reports that the district’s main office secretaries review staff attendance every morning and evening to ensure that every effort is made to find substitutes for all available positions on a daily basis. If there is a shortage of substitutes, teachers and staff are asked to help provide coverage.

“We are thankful for the many teachers and staff members that have provided this assistance to fill positions in order for us to stay open for in-person teaching and learning during this time,” she said.

When asked how the State and/or public can help, Bressler said, “We appreciate the ongoing support and understanding of our wonderful school district community.”

“From the State, we believe all districts would benefit from access to regular and reliable COVID tests for interested staff members and students, with parental permission,” Bressler continued. “We would also benefit from consistent, clear guidance from the State Department of Health.”

In regards to staffing, Tri-Valley CSD Interim Superintendent Dr. William Silver explained that it is a short- and long-term issue.

“In the short term, the impact of COVID has highlighted the need for more substitute teachers in all areas, more nurses and more teacher aides and assistants,” he said.

“In the long-term, we will need more teachers in almost all content areas, especially in math, science and world languages,” he continued. “This is a huge pipeline problem - enrollment in schools of education have [declined] in the last ten years and universities have dropped programs that lead to certification due to lack of student demand.”

As for how they’ve tried to combat those issues, Silver said they’ve raised sub per diem rates, created “permanent sub” positions, advertised in the community and County, and “pulled our hair out. Nothing works...”

So how can the State help?

Silver said, “Relaxing certain certification area requirements, allowing for ‘life experience’ in the certification process, be more responsive and reduce the variations in core subject certifications (e.g. the grade level restrictions on elementary certs - Birth-3, PK-2, 3-6, 6-8, 8-12). It makes it hard to move people around to fill teaching spots.”

He said the current certification system was designed (in part) to improve the quality of teacher candidates and make education prep programs more rigorous.

“If it did that it would be great, but it doesn’t,” he said. “It’s been compromised for too long, and the profession is not competitve with other similarly credentialed industries (accounting, engineering, etc.).”

Silver said the public is problematic as many surveys show that they support their local schools and think they are pretty good (but not all schools), yet if they try to raise salaries to be more competitive, budgets tend to get defeated at the polls.

“And the tax cap makes it impossible to significantly raise salaries, so removing it would help some districts,” he said. “So ... the State could remove/revise the cap [and] provide more aid to targeted districts (the current discussion about Foundation Aid formulas is a good example of disparities among districts and their ability to pay).”

With things changing day-to-day, check your local school district’s website for the most up-to-date information.


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