AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – With just two weeks left before the start of a new school year, Akron Public Schools will do so with dozens of open and unfilled positions.
As with other school districts across Ohio, the state’s fifth largest school district, with 20,000 students, needs bus drivers.
Transportation Coordinator Bill Andexler says the district is about 13% short of having full time drivers in all of its 80 buses.
The district also contracts with Peterman, which Andexler says is down about 22% on its employees.
Drivers in training are down about 20%.They are slots that would typically be filled with substitutes, but that number is down also about 60%.
Andexler says that means juggling routes and schedules to have other drivers double up on routes which could result in delays for some students.
“And then it’s a domino effect. If you are late for your first route going out then your second one is going to be late too because you are late for your first one, then your third one is going to be late, so it compounds all the way down,” said Andexler.
Creating the schedules and routes is a daily challenge for Andexler who gets up at 2 a.m. and prints out a schedule by 3 a.m. After that, he says he gets texts and calls from drivers who are sick or have conflicts, so the plan is always changing.
“When I hear that noise going off, I cringe every time because we are already short drivers and I know when I get to work now I’m going to have to change my plan that I already had in place at 3 in the morning. It’s going to change by 5:30 a.m.,” said Andexler.
After the kids get to their schools, the district is challenged with trying to overcome another challenge, finding teachers.
Angela Carter, the district’s recruitment and retention manager, says, as of Thursday, there remain just under 60 teaching positions that need to be filled.
“We are in this bind because, a lot of times, people wait until the last minute to put in their resignation or their retirement and so then we get stuck with trying to find people who are not committed to a school district, but most times people at this point are already committed,” said Carter.
Carter says teachers are expected to commit to the district they are in by mid-July.
To fill those open positions, school districts reach out to substitutes.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, finding substitutes has been a difficult challenge for all school districts across Ohio, but Carter says that is now on the rebound.
“I think it is because we have raised our substitute teacher rate which has definitely helped a lot and we are reaching out to some of our retired teachers and asking them to come in because they know our students, they know our system, they know how we work and they are licensed,” said Carter.
But it is not just teachers that the district needs to find.
There are open positions for school counselors in elementary schools, for paraprofessionals to help teachers with special needs students, bus aids, career tech instructors and more.
“We have cafeteria workers, bus drivers, bus aids, custodial workers and so we have all kind of levels. We have full-time positions and part-time positions,” said Carter.
The district is familiar with what needs to be done to fill the gaps while reaching out to anyone with an interest or experience to entice them to apply. Still, there are just a few weeks to go before the new school year begins.
“We are excellence through equity, making sure everybody has a place where they belong, a sense of they feel valued and so this is the place to be is Akron,” said Carter.