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Schools looking to fill openings

By Shannon Watkins

The Farmville Herald

Local school systems are experiencing employment vacancies this year, but not all of them are worse than usual, according to local school superintendents.

Labor shortages in other districts have administrative staff filling in for food service and bus driver positions.

However, Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward county school systems have not reached that point, Dr. Daisy Hicks, Dr. Chip Jones and Dr. Barbara Johnson said, respectively.

“We are grateful for a committed, dedicated, and qualified workforce in Buckingham,” Hicks said. “We are fortunate to only have a few positions that we have not been able to fill to date: two elementary teaching positions, one bus driver position and one cafeteria worker position. We are always in need of dedicated and skilled substitute teachers, substitute bus drivers and substitute cafeteria workers.”

Hicks also noted the school has three bus drivers currently in training.

Jones said his division is feeling a pinch in terms of filling positions, but not to the point of asking staff to double up on positions.

“We need bus drivers. We need custodians and we need school nutrition staff members,” Jones said, though he did not feel the pandemic was necessarily to blame.

“I can’t say it’s COVID. We always have a need,” he said. “The need seems to have increased, but I can’t say it’s because of COVID, if that makes sense. I don’t know what the cause would be. I’m not sure.”

Jones said that in his opinion, it’s an ongoing, widespread issue.

“As I look across different places, I see that everyone seems to have opportunities for work, I see a ‘help wanted’ sign,” he said. “I’ve seen more advertising for those types of positions than I have in the past, but I can’t 100% say that it’s because of COVID.”

The private sector has seen people refusing to come back into the workforce for jobs considered high stress and low pay, such as the same types of jobs the school system needs workers for. Jones said he didn’t know if the jobs that are vacant in Cumberland schools were being viewed the same way by potential applicants.

“The low wages could play into that, because I know custodians are part-time positions,” Jones said. “It’s 30 hours a week for the positions we’re advertising for, where you can get benefits but not qualify for retirement.”

This also applies to school nutrition jobs, but he said bus drivers can participate in insurance and the retirement system. The school system is unlikely to consider making these positions full time and possibly reclaiming the cost by reducing the total number of job openings, because, Jones said, it would still be too expensive to the school system.

“I think we’ve looked at all avenues, but with custodians, there’s only so much consolidation you can do,” he said, because the actual work required takes several people to complete.

Jones also said he felt Cumberland schools staff are up to the task of covering these gaps.

“What I appreciate about the team at Cumberland County schools is, we’ll do what it takes to get the job done,” he said. “If that requires us cleaning we’ll do that, if that requires working in the cafeteria we’ll do that. The only thing we can’t do is CDL (drive buses) because that takes certification.”

He said he thinks a need for custodians, nutrition workers and bus drivers is also simply a regular, ongoing need in all divisions.

“Right now, we’ve been able to make do. But I think what we’ve experienced with COVID over the last year and a half, we’ve experienced that things can change, and we have to be flexible. Just because we didn’t do it yesterday doesn’t mean we won’t have to do it today and vice versa.”

Prince Edward County Public Schools are also on the lookout for several positions but are not in a dire position, Johnson said.

“We are still trying to hire people,” she said. “As far as cafeteria workers, we’re doing fine in that area. We are still short some bus drivers, but we do have one or two potential bus drivers in the pipeline. We have to make sure the drivers are trained and ready.”

She especially sang the praises of Richard Goode, the director of support services.

“He does everything,” Johnson said. “He drives a bus, supervises food service and alternative education and is liaison for our cleaning company. I just want to sing his accolades, because he is now driving a bus and did so last year, so we did not have to cancel any routes. We’re hoping these drivers in the pipeline will take care of that situation so they will not add to his many, many duties.”

Aside from staff, Prince Edward County schools are still in need of faculty.

“We’re still looking for a few teachers,” Johnson said. “I think some of it is due to COVID, but not all of it. Traditionally, bus drivers are hard to find. I don’t think that’s due to COVID, but I think it exacerbated the situation.”