BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — School districts are finally back in session after a rollercoaster of closing and reopening last year. However, during this comeback, the pandemic has caused staffing shortages across Kern County schools.
“Positive cases required quarantine periods, and general burnout from abnormally challenging circumstances has really complicated things in our schools this school year. When you couple that with an already existing staff and substitute shortage, it’s really kind of creating the perfect storm,” said Robert Meszaros, Spokesman, Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.
It’s an issue sweeping the nation the state and even Kern County. Meszaros said they’ve been hearing districts across Kern County dealing with a substitute teacher and staff shortages.
One of those school districts being the Kern High School District.
“Since the beginning of the school year, we have been able to fill most permanent teaching positions,” said Erin Briscoe KHSD PIO. “However, like many other school districts across our country, we are experiencing shortages in certificated and classified substitute positions, including substitute teachers, food service workers, instructional assistants, instructional assistants for special needs, campus security, clerical specialists, transportation assistants, and bus drivers.”
She added that they’ve experienced staff members testing positive for COVID-19 and are using subs or other staff to fill in where needed.
In the midst of these shortages, school districts are offering incentives derived from ESSER funding from the state. According to the Kern High School District, those include reimbursement fingerprinting fee for new hire substitutes, a sign-on bonus to complete compliance training, and a bonus for all substitutes who work 11 days a month.
“We pay 220, 225 dollars a day and we call it a special covid rate and those folks come out and they can do whatever is necessary that day,” said Stuart Packard, Superintendent at Buttonwillow Union Elementary School District.
Packard believes another reason for shortages also has to do with pandemic polarization. He said some may still fear contracting the virus, while others may have personal reasons for not wanting to have to follow school vaccinations and regular testing.
"Kern County has a pretty good connection with the school districts to make sure we're doing the right thing but it's still a political issue when it comes down to it. And there are many people making choices based on religion and you have to talk to people about how they really feel about something," said Packard.
So far this year, they've had to combine their classes two to three times. Packard said they've only had one teacher with a COVID case since school started with zero transmissions. But that one was a wake-up call for the need for substitutes they may run into.
"That was a huge concern like, okay we could get into issues of making sure have enough people. The most important part is having the least amount of interruption to our students as possible. especially with everything going on in education across the state, across the country right now,” said Packard.