Schools Hope to Overcome Staff Shortages with State, Federal Funds

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By Alex Baumhardt

School districts in Oregon plan on spending millions of dollars in state and federal funds to pay teachers higher salaries and offer hiring and retention bonuses to fully staff schools by Sept. 1.

Nearly all of Oregon’s 219 school districts and education service districts, including local districts, have applied for a portion of $100 million allocated by the state Legislature this year for staff bonuses. Districts also have had access to $1.7 billion in federal Covid relief money since 2020, of which Oregon has more than $1 billion left to spend. Districts are allowed to use this money to maintain, retain and recruit staff.

Across the state, district superintendents say they continue to face teacher shortages for certain grades and subjects, including special education and English language teachers, along with shortages of administrators, bus drivers, custodians, and auxiliary staff.

A lack of teachers and other staff has meant that a growing number of students are taught by substitute teachers and emergency teachers after months of online learning during the pandemic. It has meant larger class sizes for some students and teachers forced to teach during planning periods and to work more hours.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle reached out to 100 superintendents across the state and heard back from more than one-third. A majority had most of the staff they needed but were still hiring in the runup to the first day of school, just two weeks away.

To fill gaps, the Siuslaw School District in Florence on the Oregon coast plans to ask a few retired teachers to help manage special education programs at the 400-student high school, Superintendent Andrew Grzeskowiak said in an email. Right now the school only has one special education teacher. Lane County also lacks bus drivers. Grzeskowiak said Siuslaw will try to attract them by matching hiring bonuses offered to drivers from private companies or in nearby school districts.

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district by enrollment, currently has 226 open teaching and classified school staff positions. Among them are openings for four school psychologists, 12 counselors and 29 special education teachers.

Rural districts need staff as well.

The Umatilla School District has long sought special education teachers.

“They’re so hard to find so we are always on the lookout,” Superintendent Heidi Sipe said.

In Hermiston, a push last school year to get substitute teachers and classified staff licensed to work full-time in classrooms has left the district with shortages of substitutes and classified staff, like paraprofessionals who work with students with disabilities and teahing assistants.

Superintendent Tricia Mooney said emergency teacher and substitute teacher licenses will continue to be helpful but she said they’re a “Band-Aid.”

“We need to be thinking further down the road, too, about how we’re going to grow our own teachers,” Mooney said.

Last year teacher burnout led to a greater strain on staffing.

“We did have teachers resign mid-year, and we haven’t really had that in the past,” Mooney said. “The fallout of that we’re gonna feel for several years to come.”

Her district is working with Western Governors University, a private online four-year college in Utah, to offer tuition reimbursement for non-certified staff who complete a teacher degree program and teach in Hermiston schools.

For the complete story, see the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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