School departments facing negative impact from pandemic

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Officials at two of the most vital departments within the South-Western City Schools District presented the board of education with its annual report last month. The officials said while both departments have been negatively impacted by pandemic related issues, they continue to do the best with what they are given.

Tim Cox, the supervisor at the transportation department, said at the Jan. 24 board meeting that they are still struggling to hire bus drivers, particularly at the substitute level.
He added that while board approved increases to wages have lessened the sting of the shortage being felt at other districts, they are still not where they would like to be.

“If we had 30 substitutes on hand a day, that would be our optimum goal,” he said.

Unfortunately, he added, they currently have 17 substitute drivers on their list and not all of them are “everyday drivers.”

He said some drivers on the list can only do field trips, while others have full-time jobs elsewhere.

He said what is compounding the issue is the shortage of CDL drivers across the nation.

“It’s everywhere, not just here.”

He said he hopes recent efforts by the local, state, and federal government to train individuals to get their licensure will help in the near future.

According to Cox, the transportation department’s fleet of buses are in good condition. There are currently 210 buses in service and a majority of them are newer models. He said the district is currently receiving federal funds though a Diesel Mitigation Trust Fund Grant that allows older models to be replaced at a discounted rate.

He said that is beneficial to the district as the cost to purchase a bus has risen by 11 percent.

“We are now into the six figures per bus,” he told the board.

After giving his report, Cox praised the efforts of the transportation staff. That sentiment was echoed by members of the board.

“They are the best,” said board member Lee Schreiner.

Lisa Hamrick, the supervisor of the food service department, also presented an annual report to the board.

She said this department is experiencing staffing shortages at the substitute level and shortages with some items on the menu.

“We are not any different from any other school district across the nation,” she said. “We are definitely in the same boat as we have also run into a lot of supply chain issues.”

Hamrick said the department has done an “exemplary job” of making food substitutions, especially as they have seen an increase in participation numbers at lunch and at breakfast. The department estimates 65 percent of the student body is participating during lunch meals, while 33 percent of the student body is partaking in breakfast meals.

Hamrick said while she does like to see more student participation in school meals, she worries they will see a drop off in those numbers next year if the state and federal program that provided free meals to all students is not renewed.

She said the department does not and will not “turn away children” should they be unable to pay for their meals. However, she did stress the importance of filling out applications for free and reduced meals.

“It affects not just the funding within our department but at many departments throughout the district as well,” she said.

Both departments are still hiring for positions. To see a complete list of opportunities, visit the district’s website at swcsd.us for more information.

 

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