As Iowa School Year Begins, Many Schools Face Shortages

As families are squeezing in last-minute shopping to get ready for back-to-school, Iowa schools are also scrambling to get ready.

Across the state, shortages for positions such as bus drivers and classroom teachers still persist, and getting those positions taken care of is taking a lot of work and creativity.

As of Friday, the Des Moines Public Schools have 47 openings for multiple types of teachers at several different levels. Six transportation positions are open, including for drivers and mechanics.

To help grease the wheels, DMPS began offering $50,000 incentives to older staff who have been with the district for over a decade and might be thinking about retirement. That’s in addition to signing bonuses and retention bonuses.

In the Cedar Rapids Community School District, 30 teaching positions were open as of July 28, along with other positions for transportation, para educators and food and nutrition.

“CRCSD is implementing several short- and long-term strategies to close the staffing shortage gap. These include conducting extensive recruiting, offering extra incentives, building substitute pools, asking retired teachers to return, and combining classes if needed. A long-term strategy is our partnership with the LIFE program at the University of Dubuque. This program helps current employees become certified teachers within CRCSD,” said Linda Noggle, Executive Director of Talent Management in a statement sent to KCRG.

According to KCRG reporting: “Springville had four teachers resign, that’s actually down from the year prior when that district saw 6 resignations. Lisbon had seven resignations. Meanwhile the Dubuque Community School District, which is larger, saw 49 resignations and 13 retirements. The Cedar Rapids Community School District had 105 teachers resign and 26 retirements, and Iowa City Schools saw 55 resignations and 15 retirements.”

Across Iowa, there are more than 200 positions open for bus drivers.

Near Springville in Eastern Iowa, a yellow school bus sits on the side of the road with a banner telling passers-by to call the school if they’re interested in being a bus driver.

The Johnston Community School District needs about eight more drivers. The shortage, going on three years, means combined routes, longer waits or rides, and more packed buses.

The school board has debated this issue at length.

“For a few months, the district held public meetings to decide whether to change start and end times for the middle schools and high school to reduce the total number of routes and save the district nearly $260,000 by running nine fewer buses,” the Des Moines Register reported.

Associate dean at the University of Iowa’s College of Education Mark McDermott said Iowa schools are calling the college looking for recent graduates to fill a number of positions, even in areas that are normally easy to staff such as elementary.

“We’re getting calls close to the start of school from schools who are saying ‘I have five elementary teaching positions that are open’ and a couple of years ago that would have never happened,” he told KIOW.

Dan Barkel, superintendent at Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn/Remson-Union, said their smaller school is competing to woo new hires, but it’s hard to compete with bigger schools, especially when they don’t have the funds to offer some of the same monetary incentives.

Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said the shortage is because teachers are retiring, some early, and people who are in the middle or beginning of their teaching careers are leaving.

He’s told various news organizations it’s because teachers don’t feel supported and the narrative around schools is hurting morale. He cited recent legislation that restricts what and how educators can teach, proposed burdens that would require teachers to submit classroom plans up to a year in advance, and rhetoric suggesting teachers are trying to indoctrinate students as examples.

And then because of shortages, a lot of teachers are filling in for each other and losing time to prepare for their own classes, he said.

Another factor is the salary teachers make, and whether that’s worth the extra stress.

 

Nikoel Hytrek
08/22/22

Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at nikoel@iowastartingline.com. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_hytrek

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