JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Colorado districts are scrambling to cover staffing shortages a month out from start of the school year.
The main focus for many districts is filling hourly positions that a number of people left during the pandemic.
The Jefferson County School District is focused on finding bus drivers and food nutrition services employees most.
“We have close to 100 vacancies coming up on about four weeks to go until school starts, so it’s a critical shortage,” said Erika Edwards, Jefferson County Food and Nutrition Services Director of Operations.
Edwards explained that all students can get free meals in the year ahead. A couple of weeks ago, she said the Board of Education brainstormed new ways to get applicants interested in preparing and serving these critical foods.
“Our Board of Education approved for workers to come in at $15 an hour, which is a huge win,” Edwards said, “Starting rate used to be $12.49 an hour.”
Edwards says the board is finalizing plans for these increased rates in the next couple of weeks. She hopes the new starting pay combined with flexible work times will be appealing to those considering food and nutrition services jobs.
As for bus drivers, Jefferson County is hoping to fill 72 driver positions.
“You work 182 days a year and you get paid the whole year,” North Transportation Director Shelly Benis said.
Benis says currently employed drivers are hitting the pavement trying to recruit new candidates to fill their openings.
“If we don’t get enough drivers, what we are going to do is instead of going into some of the neighborhoods we’re used to we’ll be cutting out those stops and instead doing a centralized bus stop,” Benis said.
Other districts like Denver Public Schools are also considering alternative plans if they can’t fill hourly position openings.
“Last year we pulled some central office people out to go in the schools to provide support,” DPS director of talent acquisition Lacey Nelson said. “We haven’t heard if that’s going to happen this year, but we have to start to look at contingency planning.”
Nelson broke down the latest openings for Denver Public Schools:
Paraprofessionals – 230
Bus Drivers – 50
Custodians – 70
Campus Safety Officers – 20
Nurses – 15
She says many of the applicants they are getting aren’t following through with the hiring process.
“We get excited because we get 15 people apply and then you are lucky if you get two or three of them to complete the application process,” Nelson said. “Our number one priority is going to be opening the school doors making sure our kids are in the classrooms and they are safe and getting to school, so we’ll do whatever it takes to readjust and replan.”
DPS is working on creating signing bonus for drivers and creating more job fairs. More information about these incentives and Jeffco’s food and nutrition wage hike should become available in the next couple of weeks.