Unprecedented staff shortages in schools

MCSD Official: ‘Unlike anything we’ve seen’

T-R PHOTO BY TREVOR BABCOCK — Director of Human Resources Nora Ryan says staff at Marshalltown Community School District are working together to overcome abnormally high staff shortages.

A desperate search for employees in schools across the state has placed added stress on the Marshalltown Community School District.

“All across the board, it’s more than usual (and) unlike anything we’ve seen,” MCSD Director of Human Resources Nora Ryan said.

Teachers are doubling up classrooms. Principals are filling in when they can, and office personnel and paraeducators who are willing and able are also chipping in to help. In Ryan’s opinion, seeing that hard work and spirit of cooperation keeps everyone going.

“It’s been incredible to see the teamwork,” she said. “Everybody is pitching in.”

While openings within the school district are common, Ryan said that the number of current vacancies is exponentially higher.

T-R PHOTO BY TREVOR BABCOCK — A sign advertising open bus driver and bus monitor positions seen on South Center St. in Marshalltown.

The district needs teachers, paraeducators, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, bus monitors and more, with a total of 18 teaching positions available.

“Last year, at this time, I want to say (that) maybe we had two,” Ryan said.

In addition, almost 50 paraeducator positions are open. Typically, that number is around 12.

Ryan said everyone, herself included, feels the stress of the staff shortage, with some teachers losing their preparatory periods to cover other classrooms and administrators leaving their offices to teach.

“It’s a strain on everybody, because then everybody is even more stressed and more tired, and it affects the entire chain,” she said.


The issue is not just a Marshalltown problem.

“Everyone is feeling it,” Ryan said. “There are certain school districts that are often considered really attractive because of their location and their pay, and they’re up and coming. Even those districts have openings that they can’t fill.”

She sent a survey out to colleagues across the state asking how other educators would compare the current vacancies to years prior. ‘SOS Send Help,’ the most dire option, was selected the most often.

An uptick in resignations is another factor, and while the district sends out exit surveys, not everyone responds.

“We don’t know if we can attribute it to the pandemic, if we can attribute it to people’s personal lives or just (a) change in careers. We don’t really know, specifically,” Ryan said.

A smaller substitute pool makes absences even harder to fill. With over 400 certified staff members, less than 50 substitutes are available.

“That’s important to know, because not all of those 40 some people want to work every single day,” Ryan said.

A steady decline in the number of college graduates in elementary and secondary education also makes the hiring pool smaller, as Ryan noted an overall decline in interest in the profession.

“For example, this year at one of the three large institutions in our state, there was only one graduate with a French endorsement. We needed a French teacher here, and that teacher had already been claimed,” Ryan said.

The district noticed a lot more openings than usual last spring and quickly found itself with a critical need for staff. The most sought after position- special education – now comes with a $5,000 sign-on bonus. Certified staff can also be reimbursed up to $2,500 in relocation expenses within the first three years of employment. District leadership continues to attend career fairs, university classrooms and send email blasts to alumni groups for recruitment, while recognizing that it may be time to look outside of the state.

“I think that people looking for a change in career, people looking for a different job, should strongly consider the district, because not only is the staff amazing, but every day, getting to work with the kids and seeing how they grow is really something special,” Ryan said.

She often finds herself in awe of the resilience and positive attitudes among school staff.

“Especially now, putting up with everything that the world has thrown at us, they’re still here, and they’re still working their butts off,” Ryan said. “I think that everyone is stressed, (and) everyone feels overworked. But at the end of the day, everybody is focused on why we’re here. and if you’re not focused on why we’re here, it can overwhelm you. I think everybody knows (that) no matter what job you’re doing in the district, we’re here for those kids.”

Those interested in applying can visit www.teachiowa.gov, where every open position within the district is listed.


Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-66112 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com


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