Monday, January 17, 2022

York County Schools Face Staffing Shortages Head On

School bus driver shortage, York County School Division
Schools throughout York County are having issues with staffing this year. . (WYDaily/Steve Roberts, Jr.)

YORK COUNTY — York County Public School Division (YCSD) has a lot on its plate.

Between navigating proverbial minefields such as Critical Race Theory and masking requirements in schools and do not forget the challenge figuring out the educational needs of thousands of children who spent most of last year learning over zoom calls, school districts every where have more challenges than ever before. On top of all of those issues another big one has come to light.

Staffing shortages in YCSD has forced administrators and educators to get creative when it comes to filling vacant positions.

At the YCSD board meeting on August 23, the division’s chief human resource officer, Dr. Anthony Vladu briefed a seemingly grim staffing report. At the time there were more than 20 vacancies licensed teacher vacancies. 12 at the elementary level and 18 in the secondary schools.

For non-licensed teaching roles such as special education para educators, the district is looking at almost 30 vacancies across the county. Other positions in short supply are custodians and bus drivers.

YCSD is not alone when it comes to needing bus drivers. Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC) are dealing with a handful of vacant teacher assistant and custodial positions, respectively. WJCC is also in need of 20 bus drivers. So many that in July the school board approved a $1.1 million transportation contract with ALC Schools LLC.

Despite the driver shortage, WJCC has a full roster when it comes to licensed teachers, according to Senior Human Resources Director Tim Baker.

“We feel very fortunate,” Baker said in an interview. “To start the school year, we were fully staffed for teachers and I don’t know a lot of school divisions who can say that.”

Back in York County, Dr. Vladu stated that most school systems are in similar straits when it comes to vacant educator and support staff positions.  As a result neighboring districts are pulling from the same talent pool. To make matter more difficult, Virginia code prohibits schools hiring teachers from another school division after June 30 each summer.

“What our principals generally do is hire the teaching staff first because of the that deadline,” Vladu said in an interview. “There is no deadline on instructional assistants or paraeducators. So naturally the hiring for those positions lags behind. Talking to my colleagues in other districts I found that the labor market is very different this year and employees are choosing to work outside of education.”

For YCSD necessity is the mother of invention. For certain teaching shortages York County has turned to a reversed virtual learning format. Dr. Vladu said YCSD was able to fill the vacancies for French and Spanish by hiring fully accredited teachers outside of the immediate area and allowing to conduct class over the internet.

“We can hire a teacher from any state to teach remotely. We also created a new position called an instructional associate to be sure the students have access to technology and to supervise students,” he said. “This has really cast a wider net and allowed us to draw from a different population.”

Luckily the county has a saving grace when it comes to substitute teachers.

“Our schools are in a good place. We have a long list of subs, about 375,” he noted. “They step in and do a marvelous job in filling these vacancies. We do our best to match them up by their degrees. A majority of them have post secondary degrees and they have been extremely helpful.”

As for the para educator and support roles like bus drivers, YCSD has had an aggressive hiring campaign to drum up interest. Signs on the side of buses as well as holding multiple job fairs around the county.

Going forward, Vladu said that the vacancy numbers will probably get to the same levels they have been at in years past, though that is not the goal YCSD.

“When you are looking at a 100 percent goal, even four or five vacancies is too many,” he said. “That is a pressure that we put on ourselves. We want to make sure that we have highly qualified teachers in every classroom.”

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