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Area schools scrambling to fill vacancies in summer’s waning days | Education

With classes slated to resume across northeastern Oklahoma in August, multiple school districts are still scrambling to find teachers and support staff.

“I’ve been in human resources for more than 15 years, and this has been the most difficult hiring season,” Jenks Public Schools Chief Human Resources Officer Dana Ezell said.

Check out our latest digital-only offer and subscribe nowAs of Thursday morning, Jenks had 113 openings for support staff, including 45 paraprofessional positions across the district. About 20 vacancies in the Child Nutrition Department are ones that went unfilled in 2021-22.

Jenks also still has 10 openings for teachers, counselors and other positions requiring certification, primarily at the elementary and middle school grades, and needs at least 200 more substitute teachers for the coming school year.

“That is not normal,” Ezell said.

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Jenks’ classes start Aug. 18.

Although the district is using Vision 2025 funds to offer sign-on bonuses of up to $2,000, Ezell acknowledged that schools are having to compete with industries that can offer higher pay.

“It makes it harder for us to find great people, but we are trying to recruit the very best candidates we can to work with our children,” Ezell said.

The district has been touting its benefits options, such as tuition reimbursement and bonuses for referring a candidate to one of the district’s open positions.

Statewide need

Ezell and the staff at Jenks are not the only districts hustling to find teachers and support employees.

For more than a decade, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association has offered a job board for school districts to post their open positions. On Friday afternoon, 560 jobs were listed with districts of all sizes across Oklahoma.

“There’s a time when we’d say that we were hearing more from our urban districts that they were struggling,” Executive Director Shawn Hime said. “Now it’s statewide.

“This is always the most difficult time of year for school leaders, even 20 years ago. You’re within a month of school starting, and the anxiety starts setting in.

“However, instead of having a pool of applicants to choose from, those principals and superintendents are looking for one or two candidates who are qualified or who they can get qualified through one of the alternative pathways.”

Having talked to superintendents across the state, Hime said several are resorting to creative measures in an effort to try to recruit and keep employees. Those measure include offering low- or no-cost housing, providing child care on or near campus, partnering with local businesses to offer discounted services and using federal COVID-19 relief funds for bonuses.

However, since those federal COVID-19 funds must be spent by 2024, Hime said there will have to be additional help for districts’ recruitment and retention efforts.

“We are very cognizant of the increasing inflation and the fact that federal COVID-19 money will soon be gone,” he said. “It is going to be incumbent upon the state to invest more money in the future of education for benefits and compensation.”

TPS openings

Tulsa Public Schools is among districts using a portion of their COVID-19 relief funds to offer sign-on and retention bonuses in an effort to bolster staffing. At a special meeting on July 14, TPS’ board approved recruitment stipends ranging from $1,500 for support staff to $6,000 for full-time special education teachers.

However, as of Tuesday, the Tulsa district had 194 open teaching positions and 186 school-based support staff vacancies, including 75 custodian positions and 58 in the Child Nutrition Department. The district is also looking for 15 bus drivers and 15 security officers.

As of Tuesday, Nathan Hale High School had the second-highest number of certified openings among all TPS sites and the highest number of support staff openings.

Hale had four certified positions go unfilled for most of the 2021-22 school year. On top of that, six teachers retired, and four more who taught last year with an emergency certification did not complete the requirements needed to stay in the classroom.

As of Friday, Hale Principal Sheila Riley still needed five paraprofessionals, office clerks, academic counselors, plus teachers for English, science, special education and CareerTech. With classes starting on Aug. 18, she said she is starting to get a little nervous about finding qualified candidates and is preparing to teach a CareerTech class or two.

“We’ve posted on social media,” Riley said. “I’ve reached out to colleges. We’ve contacted people who’ve worked here before who’ve retired. We’ve asked our community to spread the word. There have been some candidates coming in through those efforts, but it has not been enough.”

Smaller district struggles

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