Clark County, Nevada, was short by nearly 2,000 teachers this week.
The district had 400 substitutes to cover them.
This simple math problem forced central office staff into classrooms, students into auditoriums, and ultimately led one of the largest districts in the United States to suspend instruction.
“It was a strain on school district operations,” said Superintendent Jesus Jara, who spoke with White House officials this week about securing personal protective equipment and putting on implementation of a test program to stay.
Schools across the country are in a frantic race for substitutes and staff, with COVID-19 cases breaking daily records since the start of the year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed an order this month giving retired teachers the ability to work without losing their benefits; a similar decision awaits the signature of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The governor of North Carolina has allowed state employees to use paid volunteer days to work in schools, while districts in Texas have called on parents to step in.
In New York, which estimates Governor Kathy Hochul will need 180,000 new teachers over the next decade, the state is removing income limits for retired teachers and scaling back a lengthy certification process for new ones.
The District of Austin, Texas, on Friday announced a pay increase for locums, bringing the highest rates to $225 a day. With around 500 replacement requests every day this week, officials are appealing to parents, retired teachers, people considering a career in education or just about anyone else who is willing to go through a check. background and fighting over a class full of kids.
“We really want to be aggressive,” said Eduardo Villa, a spokesman. “Everyone is looking at the moment, so we want to recruit the best and be competitive.”
Headquarters employees are stepping in, and Villa spent a day this week supervising a class of second-graders. He led them through a science lesson about rocks, which included taking the 7- and 8-year-olds outside to collect specimens, then noting their texture, color and shape.
“I was so nervous at the start of the day,” Villa said. But it went well. “My group was great fun to be around.”
Federal stimulus funding helps some schools. About 12% of the 2,400 schools analyzed planned to spend US bailout funds on bonuses, hazard pay or overtime, according to Burbio, a company that provides school data. Yet many plans were written before the recent spike in cases. The Clark County Board of Directors approved a $2,000 retention bonus for staff, funded by federal dollars, Jara said.
Chicago Public Schools, which have been embroiled in a clash with the teachers’ union over virus safety, have dipped into federal funds to hire replacements and are changing schedules to fill staffing gaps. The district has introduced incentives, such as a $45-a-day bonus for substitutes in hard-to-fill schools.
Rural district officials had to get creative. The Hays Consolidated Independent School District, southwest of Austin, Texas, has issued a call on social media for parents to work as guest teachers. Officials waived a rule requiring subs to have 30 hours of college credit, provided they have a director’s recommendation.
Near Dallas, the Plano Independent School District was one day short of 190 substitutes, so understaffed that Superintendent Sara Bonser was covering a fourth-grade class. “We were all on deck,” Bonser said at a school board meeting.
Tom Roberson, 70, volunteers at the Leonardo da Vinci School in Sacramento, Calif., attended by his fifth- and eighth-grade sons. His unpaid help has become more important than ever.
Around 9 a.m., Roberson sets up tables and chairs outside for lunch, and he returns around noon to watch the children as they eat in shifts. While it’s not always easy to help groups of gregarious children keep their distance, Roberson said it’s worth taking a little risk.
“Online teaching is effective, but only to a certain extent – there’s just this huge gap when kids can’t see each other or don’t get the projects and support in class,” he said. .
Education officials and advocates say the extreme shortages are the result of a long-term shortage of teachers in the United States, driven by a low recruiting pool and years of below-average salaries. The so-called teacher salary penalty, which measures the gap between teachers and professionals with similar training, has increased since the mid-1990s, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.
“You’re starting to see more desperation in hiring, and it tends to fall inequitably,” said Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers University’s graduate school in New Jersey.
For teachers, sustained labor shortages mean daunting workloads. Will Johnson, a high school English and special education teacher in Brooklyn, estimated that about 10 to 20 percent of his department has been sick on any given day since winter break. He rarely sees replacements and sacrifices his planning periods to replace his colleagues.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in the level of teacher absences,” Johnson said on Friday. “It creates all this extra work for people who are already overworked.”