The impact of staffing shortages

The impact of staffing shortages
Posted on 09/28/2021

Good evening!  As I’m sure you are aware, QCSD is not immune to the workforce shortages and difficulty finding job applicants that are happening across our nation. Just drive up and down Route 309, employment opportunity signs are everywhere.  For Quakertown schools, you probably have seen posters advertising for Levy Bus drivers. In public education, for a multitude of reasons we have serious staffing shortfalls.  Because of this, I want to bring you up to date.

Yesterday morning at 6:43, Quakertown Community High School Principal Matt Van’t Hoenderdall texted me that he had 12 teachers out from a combination of personal illness, family medical leave, family illness, or a personal day.  Of those out, he had nine teaching positions uncovered - without a teacher.  I knew his story before he texted.  As I shared with you last year, the last thing I do before I go to sleep at night and the first thing I do in the morning is check the number of certified staff members, e.g. teachers, counselors, nurses, that are out for various reasons.  My routine has not changed this year.

Since I had no scheduled appointments yesterday morning, I stopped by the high school and subbed for a few classes.  Spending time with students is priceless.  I then covered cafeteria duties as we were short two administrators for the day, too.  After seeing social media posts last night poking at me for drinking my coffee and eating my lunch without a mask, and other posts directly attributable to our substitute teacher shortage, I knew it was time to share with you an update on our staffing shortfalls and its impact.  

When we began the new school year most of our professional staff shortfalls came from last-minute resignations and retirements.  We began the year short by 10 certified staff members, of which three are awaiting FBI and other clearance checks.  The strategies that the Board approved last year for improving our substitute teacher posture are still in the works for this year.  Every evening building leaders spend hours figuring how the next day will unfold to ensure students have a teacher and the students are in safe hands.  When students return home at the end of the school day and report that they went to the classroom next door, please be assured that principals are preparing and planning for the known and unknown everyday.

This year, our greatest challenges are in critically important support staff positions.  Today, we are short 20 classroom aides, or 15 percent of the total number of aides in our schools, we are short nearly 50 percent of our cafeteria staff - (yes, not a misprint - half), and short more than 30 percent of our building custodians.  We are also short secretaries and building maintenance workers.  

What is the impact of the shortfalls and what am I doing about it?  Classroom aides are invaluable to individual and group student services, classroom teachers, and children’s safety on our playgrounds.  Without them in a classroom, quality instruction for ALL students becomes harder. In our lunchrooms, the skeleton staff is only able to prepare the announced meal, so a la carte options aren’t available. Obviously, being short custodial staff members, the results are visible when teachers and students return to school the next day - trash is not taken out, desks are not cleaned, and floors are not swept. Unacceptable?  Yes!  Many of our facilities staff members are working overtime to get most of the work done. Deep cleaning our schools like last year is virtually impossible.  

The last category is a bus driver shortfall that is slipping into crisis.  Just today, due to the lack of bus drivers, away field hockey and boys soccer games were postponed.  This is not the first time athletic competitions have had to be rescheduled this year due to the lack of bus drivers.  Presented with this problem, all hands are on deck at Levy Bus with management driving buses themselves.  Yesterday, I learned that Pennsylvania is short 2,425 school bus drivers impacting nearly half of the 500 school districts in the state. More than 100 school districts in PA are closing down bus routes, limiting school day hours, and changing school schedules because of the bus driver shortages.

In early August, we foreshadowed the staffing problem by informing the Board's Finance Committee about its scope.  The Board asked us to continue to monitor the situation and to begin the process of developing options for them. We renewed a dialogue with our support staff union - QESPA, about mutually agreeable strategies to attract and retain new employees. We will present the resulting options to the Finance Committee for consideration in early October, and hopefully be able to take action on at least some of them shortly thereafter.  These strategies will not help with our bus driver shortage since drivers are employed by Levy Bus Co.

Thank you for your reading, your patience, and understanding.  Please be assured that we are working through the challenges.

Have a good evening!

Bill Harner


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