Workers needed during district staff shortage
Editor’s note: Bellefonte Area School District is seeking applicants for job vacancies. If interested, please check out the list of job opportunities and apply, here: Job openings
Bellefonte Area School District had its first delayed start on the morning of Jan. 7 due to poor weather. Overnight and into the morning, snow blanked Centre County with a reported 2-to-2.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service’s State College office.
That meant some district staff needed to bundle up a little extra, and grab a shovel and some salt to clear walkways, parking lots and other areas from snow before the day started. Normally, it’s something the ground crew is in charge of, according to custodial supervisor Laura Gardner, but this time, it took a team of ground crew, custodial and maintenance personnel, and other district employees to help.
Earlier in the school year, and in an attempt to manage the staff shortage in his department, Director of Physical Plant Aaron Barto sent a districtwide email to employees asking for help with snow removal on days when two- and three-hour weather delays are imposed. He said two people volunteered – an administrator, and teacher assigned to help at Bellefonte Elementary School, the administrative offices and Bellefonte Area High School – but not enough response to fill the gaps.
At full strength, Barto oversees 28 custodians and nine maintenance personnel. This school year, however, numbers are lower, leaving several positions unfilled due to limited-to-no applicants, nor enough substitutes.
In September, Education Week published information about school staff shortages across the country, which can be found, here: Education Week. It says the shortages are attributed to the pandemic and other factors that have been building, and is prevalent in more rural settings. The state Department of Education lists BASD as a “midsize, rural, public school district.”
To make due, Gardner added that she does everything in her power to help where and when needed, and at the same time, bring a positive attitude she hopes will bind the team together. It even goes as far as singing while shoveling snow. After all, she admitted to love singing, as it also makes the time more enjoyable.
“I just try to be positive when I can, even when it’s difficult, and hope it wears off,” she said. “That’s kind of what I’m here for – to bring the positivity and also be willing to help, willing to stay and willing to do what I can because at the end of the day these guys go above and beyond to help teachers and students with what they need, and I’m here to support that.”
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD
The staff shortage with paraeducators is also dire. At Bellefonte Area, paraeducators provide instructional support for students in general and special education. At full strength, the district employs 62 paras. This school year, that number is down, according to Substitute Coordinator Jeffrey Baker. He said there are four vacancies, with the possibility of more on the horizon. Those job openings are to support students who need academic, behavioral and support in self-care.
To fill the void, various employees often volunteer to help with lunch duty or step in to oversee a class when a substitute is unavailable. At one time, Baker led the commonwealth in teacher fill-rates with 98 percent in the 2018-19 school year and added that, pre-pandemic, he worked with a pool of 120 substitutes. The teacher fill-rate is now down to about 80 percent, as of December, with a pool of about 80 substitutes, of which Baker said 25-to-35 are actively working. Sometimes that means using instructional coaches and specials teachers to fill in where needed.
“This might sound crazy, but just 10 subs can make a world of difference at school,” he said. “The biggest thing we’re finding is people are weary about coming in because of the pandemic and are concerned for their health.”
If interested in becoming a substitute, please contact Baker at (814) 355-4814 ext. 3054 or via email at email@example.com. You may also visit this link for more information: Sub opportunities