Help is on the way for school workforce shortages
Education leaders are staring at a school workforce crisis, with severe shortages expected next year for positions ranging from bus driver to language specialist. Recruitment and retention are the watchwords.
Last week, the state set in motion House Bill 4030, which allocates $78 million in grant money directly to school districts and education service districts to keep the people they have and bring in new staff. The application period will open Sunday, May 1.
The very next day, the Oregon School Personnel Association will hold a roundtable on recruitment and retention.
HB 4030 is the 2022 Legislature’s main answer to a looming workforce shortage that has been apparent since the pandemic’s stresses thinned the already tight school labor market. The bill provides nearly $100 million for education recruitment and retention, including $19.6 million for substitute teacher and instructional assistant trainings.
Most of the rest goes to school districts and education service districts in direct grants based on weighted average student enrollment.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill April 18. The State Board of Education isn’t scheduled to consider temporary rules for the program until May 17, but the Oregon Department of Education released parameters and other information April 22. School district applications are due by May 27.
Within broad categories and with a lens of equity and diversity, districts can use their grants for expenses and bonuses to recruit and retain staff, to improve working conditions to decrease burnout, and to study long-term causes of workforce shortages in the area.
The High Desert Education Service District offers an example of both the need and one of many approaches to addressing workforce shortages.
The High Desert ESD contracts with districts in its region to provide substitute teachers. It likes to have a pool of around 1,000 possible substitutes, but in October it only had about 600, according to Jayel Hayden, High Desert Human Resources director.
In November, the ESD began offering a $500 bonus to licensed substitutes who work more than 10 days in a month to entice substitutes to take jobs they might normally turn down. Hayden said their pool now has a little more than 800 substitutes but it’s often not enough. On a recent day, 70 spots were unfilled for the region.
The ESD has also raised its pay for classified substitutes, such as teacher aides, to $15 an hour, but it’s still hard to fill those positions.
“People can do better out there than $15 an hour,” Hayden said.
As part of its spring conference, OSPA is hosting a roundtable work session Monday, May 2, in Bend on addressing Oregon’s educator shortage. The full-day session aims to pull together K-12 superintendents and human resources directors, higher education representatives, Oregon legislators, and school board members to discuss barriers and innovative solutions from around the country.
OSPA Executive Director Tim Yeomans said the teacher workforce shortage has been brewing for a long time. He said the school budget cuts following the 2007-09 economic crisis forced a lot of teachers out of the profession and the number of new teachers has been less than the need for years.
“I think our country as a whole has spent the past 20 years bashing public education,” he said. “It has really started to show up in the number of high school graduates who are going into teaching as a career.”
At a recent job fair in Portland, 155 school districts, including from out of state, were competing for 940 candidates, according to Yeomans. A Utah district, by itself, was looking to hire 200 teachers.
Yeomans said the shortages are even worse when schools are looking for highly specialized teachers such as for high-level math or special education.
Districts are offering signing bonuses and advertising quality of life perks, Yeomans said, things they didn’t have to consider before. He said districts have to actively look for staff and not wait for people to apply when a spot opens.
He said Oregon districts are universally affected, but there are some regional differences. For instance, Portland tends to have more of the specialized teachers, but it’s harder to hire nurses because they can make more money in all the area hospitals. Some border districts must contend with higher pay for teachers in Washington and California.
The number of job openings doesn’t tell the full story of the shortages, Yeomans said. Schools simply must fill some positions, and if they can’t make a hire, they turn to what are known as “agency hires.” Schools hire temporary traveling workers at huge premiums, sometimes double the usual salary for that position.
Yeomans said the federal COVID-19 emergency money is of little help because districts can’t rely on one-time money to sustain staff positions. He said the Student Success Act has been huge for meeting staffing needs by providing a reliable source of additional income.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA