Sonoma County education officials are sounding the alarm over worker shortages

Sonoma County education officials have launched a dual letter-writing and recruiting campaign in hopes of increasing the number of teachers and substitute staff available as schools scramble daily to fill positions. vacant amid severe shortages.

Steve Herrington, Sonoma County Schools Superintendent, sent a letter to local lawmakers this month sounding the alarm about a staffing shortage, a backlog of antigen tests needed to keep students in school and problems with the state’s new independent study requirements.

“Keeping our schools open and in person has become a 24/7 job,” his letter read. “Our teachers and school site managers are doing everything possible to focus on well-being and accelerating learning.”

In line with trends affecting California schools, shortages of substitutes and other staff have clashed with heightened demands of COVID-19 precautions, making the school a hectic and exhausting undertaking just weeks after the start of the new school year, school administrators said.

“I have been a superintendent for over 10 years and led the Wright Elementary School District through four years of fires, school closures and COVID,” Southwest Elementary District Superintendent Adam Schaible wrote. of Santa Rosa, in his letter to Healdsburg Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire.

“None of this prepared me for the relentless 24/7 crisis management brought on by the current conditions,” Schaible said.

Complex challenges

It’s hard to get an accurate sense of the severity of the shortage in Sonoma County. But John Laughlin, human resources manager for the Sonoma County Office of Education, provided an estimate of the number of unmet requests for substitute teachers in the county each week: between 20 and 50 positions, he said. declared.

“The situation this year is unprecedented,” he said. “We already had a shortage of subs (going into this year), but what we’ve known from the first few weeks of school is that it’s worse than ever.”

Laughlin estimated that in years past he’s seen about 10% of this year’s number of requests go unmet.

Many substitute teachers are full-time teachers who have retired, and some have left the system due to concerns about their health in the classroom, Laughlin said. At the same time, however, the demand for surrogates has increased this school year, as teachers and staff, like students, sometimes have to quarantine after exposures to COVID-19.

When a teacher is absent and a replacement cannot be found, another teacher sometimes doubles up with a teacher’s aide to help cover two classes, Herrington said. But often other qualified staff members are pulled from their jobs to fill the class.

Sometimes advisors are called upon. Many other times, directors intervene.

“You’re talking about an elementary principal who teaches a class all day and isn’t available in the office,” Laughlin said. “A lot of responsibilities fall on a school secretary. Then, when the day is done, the manager comes in and tries to answer their emails and their parents’ calls – the big and small things that happen throughout the day.

Loretta Kruusmagi, principal secretary at McNear Elementary in Petaluma and chief negotiator for the district chapter of the California State Employees Association, said she’s lost track of how much overtime she’s logged so far. this school year.

“When we can’t recruit people, it’s more difficult for the people who stay,” she said.

Dana Pedersen, superintendent of the Guerneville Elementary School District, said the demands of contact tracing and enforcing other COVID protocols are dividing school personnel’s attention from their usual academic and social emotional goals.

“First and foremost, schools should be focused on teaching and learning and providing support services and not all that surveillance and health care noise,” she said. .

Schools have sometimes resorted to asking students who work one-on-one with paraprofessionals to stay home if the person is away.

Debra Ryan, director of special education for the Windsor Unified School District, sent a letter to parents of students receiving classroom support warning them that shortages were affecting their ability to find substitutes.

“In the event that the district is unable to provide appropriate coverage for your student to ensure safety, you may be asked to keep your student at home until the para-educator of your student is able to return, or until a replacement can be found,” she said. 7 letter says.

Rebekah Rocha said her daughter, Gigi, a sixth-grader at Windsor Middle School, was offered the choice of staying home when her support staff member was away or going to a special class, which is autonomous. special education class.