WEST CHESTER, Ohio — As local school districts put winter break further in the rearview mirror, many are still facing critical shortages of substitute teachers and bus drivers — leaving classrooms and routes unfilled each day.
In the Lakota Local School District, Superintendent Matt Miller said 30-35 teaching positions were filled, but 71 such positions were unfilled. More than 20 bus routes were unfilled during both the morning and afternoon, about 10% of routes.
"Our staffing situation since coming back from winter break has not been good at all," Miller said. "We triage it by building."
In many cases, Miller said, that means using other staff in the buildings to keep classes going — or combining classrooms. There are 23 buildings in the district, each seeing different amount of staff calling out sick.
"We are kind of hodgepodging together," Miller said. "Ideally, we don't want to put a bunch of kids in a space as a study hall."
The district Friday sent a letter to parents, warning families to prepare in case a building has to close because of staffing shortages. It added that the district recently increased substitute daily rates to $125 and its transportation provider, Petermann, is offering signing bonuses for drivers.
Cincinnati Public Schools has already started closing buildings because of staff shortages due to COVID-19. When the district returned from winter break last week, it reported more than 300 staff out sick.
"I don't have high hopes that things have bounced back over the weekend," CPS board member Mike Moroski said before Monday's board meeting. "I expect tonight we'll be looking at — similar to last week, whether or not we continue on this piecemeal closure of schools or close writ large the district."
Moroski has led a push on social media asking for more substitute teachers for the district. But some people, like former Cincinnati City council member Betsy Sundermann, said they applied and had either been left in limbo or denied because the district had not signed off within the 60-day deadline. Moroski said he's had a conversation with CPS administration about that.
"I have every confidence that we're working out the kinks," Moroski said. "I know there were a lot of delays and I'm only one person, but I do apologize for that."
CPS daily rate for substitute teachers is $134. Mason City Schools, like Lakota, is paying $125. However, the district said it is exploring raising that rate again soon. It reported 11.5 unfilled teaching positions Monday.
"Luckily, last year our school board proactively thought about what could be the biggest risk factors for keeping the doors open and it was staff shortages," said Tracey Carson, district spokesperson.
The district came up with a premium pay period structure, which is evaluated in two week intervals. And the district has been reaching out to non-traditional candidates, like college students on break or recent graduates.
"You don't have to think about it as a commitment forever, but if you can help us during this time," Carson said.
Other districts report similar needs.
Kings Local Schools had 27 teachers out, 18 positions went unfilled Monday. It was down five bus drivers. Middletown City Schools reported only three bus drivers out, an improvement over last week. There were 16 teachers in quarantine.