Many Dayton-area schools struggled to find staff this year: What that means for students

Parents might see transportation issues this year; but many schools worry about attracting teachers long-term.

Local school districts say families may still see interruptions to bus routes after hiring challenges this summer that included schools competing against each other and offering bonuses and higher salaries.

And those hiring challenges go beyond transportation, officials said.

A declining number of people going into the teaching profession has mixed with a tight labor market to affect how schools can hire for multiple positions. Districts surveyed by this newspaper said some of the hardest jobs to fill are bus drivers and food service workers.

“Schools in general are facing staffing shortages just like all industries,” said Dan Tarpey, Centerville schools’ director of human resources. “There just aren’t as many people out there looking for jobs.”

Janice Allen, the treasurer and chief financial officer for the Trotwood-Madison school district and board secretary for the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, said the district has offered bonuses and financial incentives in recruiting.

“I’ve been in the business for 32 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Allen said.



Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio Policy for the Fordham Institute, an education think tank, noted that the state hasn’t created any statistics to show how understaffed schools are, as some other states have done.

He said some districts have added positions because of the millions in COVID-19 federal relief funds distributed to districts.

For example, Dayton Public Schools hired 100 teachers last year so two teachers could be in each classroom in grades 1-3, using federal COVID-19 dollars to catch up on learning loss. This year, the district is reopening a closed community school in Residence Park for both the community and international students and will hire about 20 more teachers.

“So is the shortage being driven by demand or supply?” Aldis said. “And I think that’s something policymakers need more information on need to wrap their arms around, because the solutions are very different. And if it’s demand driven, it may well solve itself after federal funds go away.”



Driver shortage

Families across the region may see bus route interruptions this upcoming school year. Ohio School Board Association transportation consultant Doug Palmer said districts across Ohio are seeing shortage.

“In conversations with our members’ transportation managers, nearly every district has an unfilled bus route with no substitute drivers available,” Palmer said.

Nationally, there’s a need for truckers, who require the same qualifications as school bus drivers in Ohio. But Palmer said it’s more complicated than that, as Amazon, FedEx and other delivery services are competing with school districts for drivers.

“These drivers choose their schedules and can fit in with other jobs,” Palmer said. “Schools must compete with these companies for a shrinking pool of available workers.”

Earlier this year, Dayton Public Schools terminated its contract with First Student to transport non-DPS students to private and charter schools and are now busing elementary and middle school students within the same area where they live, as long as they live 1.5 miles or more away from the school.

All high school students living in Dayton will need to take the RTA if they need busing transportation, with few exceptions.

“We are also always hiring bus drivers,” said David Harmon, DPS chief of human resources. “We aren’t short of drivers, but we would definitely prefer to have several more to accommodate for staff absences due to personal leave and sick leave days.”

Harmon said to help with bus driver hiring efforts, the district has increased pay rates for drivers.

Kettering schools spokeswoman Kari Basson said finding enough school bus drivers to fully staff all routes continues to be a challenge.

“As long as we continue to have a shortage of school bus drivers and sub drivers, we, unfortunately, may continue to see some route cancellations for our families, as well as transportation services ‘in lieu of payment’ for some of our non-public school families,” Basson said.



Teacher pipeline issues

While there isn’t an immediate shortage of teachers in the same way as bus drivers, there have been concerns about the declining amount of teachers graduating from Ohio universities for years, especially for math and science teachers and for special education teachers.

“The idea of what’s being framed as a teacher shortage, it has been pervasive and existing for a long time,” said Brian Schultz, a professor and chair of the teaching, curriculum and educational inquiry department at Miami University. “Particularly in the most historically marginalized communities in urban centers, we see a lot of teacher turnover.”

According to a Dayton Daily News analysis of Ohio Department of Higher Education data performed in April, the percentage of people graduating from public Ohio colleges with education degrees declined from 9.63% to 6.36%.

In that span, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded across all fields rose from 38,493 to 49,963. But the number of education degrees went in the opposite direction — from about 3,700 per year through 2014, into a year after year decline that hit 3,180 in 2018.

Overall, districts are still concerned about the number of teaching candidates.

“As we visited universities during the recruitment process this past spring, it is obvious there is a shortage of teaching candidates,” Tarpey, Centerville’s HR director, said. “In addition, many teachers have left the profession over the past couple of years because of the pandemic or not feeling supported by the community as a whole.”

Schultz said students come to school hungry or dealing with issues outside of the classroom, like lack of access to health care or lack of housing. Because the students’ basic needs aren’t being met, the student has a harder time learning.

Now, students and teachers are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation that’s particularly affecting housing prices and food prices.

“We now see it most pronounced because teaching is hard and it’s complex and with all of the challenges that we see broadly in society right now, it’s situated really specifically in in classrooms and in school buildings,” he said.

Aldis said there are some charter schools that are still hiring teachers, though most local schools surveyed by the Dayton Daily News said they had few positions left open, if any.

Charter schools, which are free to students, are funded differently than traditional public schools and may not have as much money to pay teachers as a traditional public school.

In urban schools, like Dayton Public, it’s also been traditionally harder to find teachers, both because those districts don’t have as much money as a suburban public school and because the job can be more difficult.

Aldis said it’s possible that the teacher shortage could get worse, and the charter and urban districts may be a warning sign.

“If it’s a shortage that is just sort of starting to blossom, I think looking at some of the harder to staff schools, whether they’re charter schools or traditional public schools, will probably be where you would see the first warning signs,” Aldis said.

What can schools do?

With so many issues facing schools, what can schools and communities do to help districts attract the people they need to run a school?

Will Schwartz, legislative director for the Ohio School Board Association, said lawmakers are aware of the problem.

“These challenges and potential solutions are a frequent topic of discussion at the Statehouse and the Ohio Department of Education,” Schwartz said. “Ensuring Ohio has a strong pool of qualified candidates for these critical positions is a shared goal of both local schools and state policymakers.”

Aldis said the state could do multiple things. Making it easier for teachers from neighboring states to transfer their licenses to Ohio could help teachers who have moved here find jobs, he said.

Allyson Couch, HR and Educational Services Director for Oakwood Schools, agreed, and said it would be helpful for people who are moving into teaching from another career too. The Ohio Department of Education could help fix the problem, she said.

“While ODE has the avenue for out-of-state candidates, there are still a large number of hoops that have to be jumped through which deters people from going into the profession or transferring into the profession,” Couch said.

Aldis said the state can also incentivize young teachers to go into specific, hard-to-staff parts, like teaching in urban districts or special education.

Plenty of districts also offered bonuses this year and more money. Aldis said that’s not helping the root of the problem, though, which is increasing the pool of teaching candidates.

Some schools are trying to solve the problem themselves. Dayton Public, Trotwood schools and Mad River Local are working together on a program that would recruit future teachers from those schools as sophomores and send them to a participating local university. The students would then come back to teach at that school.

Allen, Trotwood’s CFO, said the culture in the district can also be important for individual teachers.

“We’re hoping that individuals are not coming to our district just for a job. They’re coming, hopefully, to retire from our district,” she said.

That means listening to people, implementing ideas and making them feel valued.

“If a position or school district doesn’t make you feel valued, why do you want it?” Allen said. “Why would you want to work for a district like that, even though you might be making about the same amount of money?”

Back-to-school coverage

This story is among several the Dayton Daily News will publish this month to give parents a better look at what’s going on in their schools

Next Sunday: COVID spending: Schools have spent millions in federal funding and still have more utilize. We track the ways money has been used.

Aug. 28: Your child’s mental health: Doctors, psychologists have concerns about students in area schools

In Monday’s digital ePaper: More coverage to get you ready for the school year

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