COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Minnesota schools are dealing with unprecedented challenges.
In addition to the pandemic, schools are widely short staffed. And while school bus drivers are desperately needed, they're not the only positions districts need to fill.
Superintendent Julie Nielsen says every department within South Washington County Schools is hiring.
"Paraprofessionals, bus drivers, nutrition services, licensed teachers," Nielsen said. "There's something called a short-call teaching license that we can get for someone that does not have an actual teaching background."
There's a similar call for help from Minneapolis Public Schools.
"We have positions in transportation, food service, classroom support," recruiting coordinator Cierra Burnaugh said. "It's been a different type of year. Lots of vacancies."
Monday last week, Nielsen tracked 78 unfilled teacher and paraprofessional positions. In other words, more than half of teacher and paraprofessional positions were left unfilled.
In St. Paul Public Schools, human resources executive director Kenyatta McCarty says it's normal to have 15 to 20 teacher vacancies but says this year there are at least 53 teacher vacancies. McCarty says it's party because fewer graduates are coming out of teacher prep programs. She says SPPS is getting about 50 student teachers per semester when 150 student teachers per semester used to be the norm. Reserve or substitute teachers are also in high demand.
"Even if individuals have a day or two days, they could sign up to be a substitute teacher," Nielsen said.
According to Bloomington Public Schools, there is "an immediate need for reserve staff to assist in classrooms." Those who hold a bachelor's degree are eligible to apply for a Minnesota short-call sub license, its website explains, and pay starts at $155 per day.
Communications director Jim Skelly of Anoka-Hennepin Schools says its district increased substitute teacher pay to $180 per day and starting wages for nearly every position are now over $15 per hour.
Burnaugh hopes incentives will bring in the right people to fill all of the jobs.
"We do have the $3,000 sign-on bonus for all new drivers," she said. "For the plant operations positions, there is a $500 employee referral … If you want to be in the field of making change and you want to get your hands a little dirty then come work for MPS."
Many vacant positions within schools do not require a bachelor's degree, such as paraprofessionals, crossing guards, and recess and lunchroom staff.