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District seeks people for support staff positions

T-R FILE PHOTO — Lenihan Intermediate cafeteria cook Brenda Pappas takes some chicken out of the oven for a January lunch. The Marshalltown Community School District has a need for more support staff.

The Marshalltown Community School District is in need of support staff — from substitute teachers to paraeducators, from bus drivers to food service workers.

Nora Ryan, the human resources director for the district, said she is not sure why there is a lack of support staff.

The district averages around 50 absences of employees per day.

“On Monday [Sept. 14], we had 50 people absent and we needed 26 substitute teachers,” she said. “We only got seven. On Tuesday [Sept. 15], 53 people were absent. Twenty-five of those did not need to be filled, but we did need to fill 28. We were only able to fill 12.”

When the district encounters a lack of support staff — particularly substitute teachers and bus drivers — other employees have to step up. Sometimes that means school administrators taking care of classes for a day or bus drivers going on multiple routes.

T-R file photo — Rex Kozak, transportation director for Marshalltown School District, has a need for bus drivers and bus monitors this year. The lack of drivers has caused others to drive multiple routes before and after school.

“We have seven or eight drivers on double routes,” Ryan said.

Not only does that mean it takes longer for children to get to school or to return home, but Ryan wonders what the environmental impact might be.

“Those buses are on the routes longer. What are the gas costs,” she asked.

A lack of drivers has been an issue for MCSD. Ryan said it is a great job, but requires special people.

“You work an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon,” she said. “A lot of the drivers are older people who love the kids and love the job. It also pays great. Drivers start at $21.20 per hour.”

However, Ryan said even though it is good pay, it can be difficult to sustain a full income with only three and a half hours per day. Some of the drivers have gotten creative and work multiple positions for the school district, such as in food service or paraeducator roles.

Some drivers also take multiple driving gigs, such as transporting students on field trips or athletes to away games. Those are typically less pay — around $12.50 per hour — but Ryan said most of the time is spent waiting for the event to get over with.

“So there are other jobs they pick up here and there,” she said.

Not only is there a lack of bus drivers, but bus monitors as well. Ideally, Ryan said the district should have one monitor for every driver.

“They can take care of the safety and supervision of the kids which allows our drivers to focus on driving,” she said.

Ryan was able to go on a ride with one of the drivers and she was very impressed with how well-behaved the children were in these unusual circumstances.

“The little kids all had their masks on. They were doing such a good job,” she said. “Last year, there were four times that many kids on the bus. They were rowdy and having fun. This time, the kids are sitting quietly. It is a different world.”

The bus is not the only school setting that had a change this year. For the first time ever, Ryan was able to hold an orientation for substitute teachers.

“We talked about basic procedures and about COVID precautions,” she said. “They gave us good feedback. It was great to have this and it was an exciting new thing. I would like to have another welcome orientation every year and we pay for the time.”

In an ideal world, Ryan would like to have 50 substitute teachers ready and willing to go if they are called. Right now, the district has 60 active substitutes, but not all of them can step in when notified of a vacancy.

“Absences of teachers are down so far this year, but the ratio is not,” Ryan said. “Our fill rate is much lower.”

She hopes that people will apply for the various support positions at MCSD.

“I can’t speak to why we are struggling to fill these, but I know we are grateful for our staff who work so hard every day for us,” Ryan said.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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