‘The pool for hiring is not there.’ Wake reports uptick in teacher, bus driver vacancies from last fall

CARY, NC – Hiring teachers and other staff to fill vacancies is likely to take longer than usual this year, Cathy Moore, superintendent of Wake County’s public school system, told the county school board on Tuesday.

“The hiring pool isn’t there,” Moore told the school board. “We will likely see vacancies sit for a longer period of time before they are filled. I think the pool will be slim for a while.”

The school system must operate within these constraints, Moore said.

But school board members said Tuesday they want to see what else the school system can do to recruit and retain school employees, whether it’s by changing policies, finding alternative course offerings for students or increasing flexibility in scheduling.

Board members said they were concerned about recruitment issues affecting the quality of teaching, the courses offered and students’ time on school buses. Time spent on school buses impacts magnet school enrollment and student behavior on those buses, said board member Roxie Cash.

Board member Jim Martin also pointed out that some schools are doing worse than others and that stopgap measures to cover teachers could result in lower quality services at those schools.

“It’s an equity issue,” Martin said. “If we were to see a map of it, it wouldn’t even look across the entire county.”

Martin asked school system officials to return in the future to discuss staff retention efforts, in addition to recruitment efforts mentioned Tuesday.

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Moore said teacher vacancies average only about two vacancies per school, but are not evenly distributed, with as many as 10 vacancies in some locations.

The school system has shortened its application process and is holding a fall job fair earlier than usual for January 2023 hiring, AJ Mutillo, assistant district manager for human resources, told the board.

However, board member Monika Johnson-Hostler warned that parents’ patience could be waning.

Two high schools in the Johnson-Hostler South School District each have a 10-teacher shortage. This means that many students are not getting permanent teachers for their advanced and other courses as principals have adjusted staffing levels.

“I think we owe them — I owe them — to get answers for these families,” Johnson-Hostler said. She wondered if schools could enroll students in the state’s virtual school, or if schools could use dual enrollment with colleges to offer advanced courses.

Some schools may transfer students to the state-run North Carolina Virtual Public School, assistant district director for academics Drew Cook said. But there’s a deadline for that, and some students may not succeed in virtual school, Cook said.

Johnson-Hostler didn’t name the two high schools, but her district has three: Garner High, South Garner High, and Willow Springs High.

Other school systems in the state are struggling with hiring battles. The North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association on Aug. 15 reported an increase in teaching vacancies compared to the same time last year — a 54% increase from 2,355 to 3,619 in the 98 school systems that participated in the survey.
The Wake County Public School System reported 343 teaching positions as of Sept. 13, up 34% from the 256 on Oct. 7 of last school year. It is more than the total vacancies reported for each month of the last school year except November 1 when 354 vacancies were reported.

Bus driver job vacancies have not decreased since the beginning of the school year and remain at their highest level for the last school year. The school system reported 267 vacancies as of Sept. 13, down from 268 as of Sept. 1 and more than 266 as of Aug. 12.

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Job openings for teaching assistants and child nutrition services workers have continued to improve since larger pay rises were approved last winter. For these positions, 6.3% and 13.1% of the positions are vacant.

Cash said the decline in bus routes and bus drivers in recent years is now turning families away from the magnet schools the district offers to ensure an equal spread of academic opportunities across the county.

“We actually scheduled our transportation to put them on a bus for two hours to go downtown,” Cash said. The school system also depends on transportation to meet its own goals, she said. “It’s like our entire system is dependent on our transportation system.”

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Moore said she is having discussions with other county officials about reducing behavior problems on buses and identifying the routes with the most problems to find solutions.

It’s possible former bus drivers who still have licenses — but have taken other jobs in the school system — may be able to drive again, Moore said. A staff member will do this soon and a bus will be brought to their place after school.

Board member Karen Carter also urged officials to consider ways to hire bus drivers to run only morning routes or only drive afternoon routes.

District Transportation Director Robert Snidemiller said few drivers have asked for this flexibility in the past, but the district is open to discussing options with them.

Carter said she heard that some drivers “just couldn’t handle this split shift anymore,” but it wasn’t clear they had another option for driving.

Moore noted that while the county is still actively hiring dozens of drivers, it only has enough capacity to expand bus routes.

The district has taken some buses out of service and is facing vacancies for tradesmen and delays in parts deliveries, Moore said.

“We don’t have as many buses available as we think we have,” Moore said.

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