Staffing levels increase for SWCS food and transportation departments

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The supervisors 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 that while their departments continue to experience pandemic-related shortages in some key areas of operation, they believe they are starting to turn a corner in regard to their overall staffing levels.

At the Jan. 23 board meeting, transportation supervisor Tim Cox reported that there are 180 bus drivers currently on staff and that there is a potential that number could increase by seven should drivers-in-training receive their licensure. With more than four dozen bus aides on hand, Cox said he takes some comfort in those numbers but his concern continues to lay at the substitute level.

According to Cox, the district currently has 11 substitute drivers and 16 substitute bus aides. He said those numbers, in particular the former, are not adequate enough in comparison to the size of the district.

“We need to have about 20 substitutes per day,” he said.

Cox said some of the issue with the substitutes they currently have is that these are not individuals who can commit to taking on regular routes for the district.

“Out of those 11 substitutes that we have, we probably have four or five that would be able to come in Monday through Friday and help,” he said.

He added that most have full-time jobs elsewhere and can only do field trips after-school. While helpful, Cox said they need to find more individuals who can commit to coming in when their regular bus drivers are ill or on leave.

Although the substitute shortage is not quite as dire as it has been in the past two years, Cox said the district continues to recruit and feels their efforts to shore up those numbers have made an impact.

“My belief is, with the economy and getting clientele to come in, it has been a little bit easier to recruit and get individuals interested in the job,” he said. “So it definitely does seem like it is getting a little bit better.”

The district currently pays bus drivers $20.82 per hour and substitute bus drivers $18.80 per hour. The district also covers most of the expenses incurred as recruits go through the process to obtain their Commercial Drivers License. For instance, Cox said the district pays for the drug test, the physical, the required state courses, and the CDL training while the recruit pays for the temporary license and their CDL Class B School Bus Passenger Endorsement.

He encouraged those who have an interest in driving a school bus – or even those with a flexible work schedule who are trying to make some extra money – to reach out to the district through their website for potential job opportunities.

In other transportation news, Cox said the department’s fleet of buses are in good condition. There are currently 213 buses and vans in service and a majority of them are newer models. He added that the district ordered 15 new buses last year but are still waiting to receive three of the buses. He said the arrival was delayed due to a back-order of parts for the handicap accessible buses.

Lisa Hamrick, the supervisor of the food services department, also presented an annual report where she discussed staffing levels.

According to Hamrick, the staffing situation at the food services department has rebounded from the previous year, especially at the substitute level. She attributed that bounce to a pay increase that now sees substitute cooks earning $13 per hour and the removal of a state requirement which mandated cooks at all levels take a civil service test.

“When that went away, it seemed like the flood gates opened and we were ecstatic,” said Hamrick.

Around this time last year, the food service department had 30 open positions – or a 16 percent shortage in their staffing levels. This year, however, the food service department has roughly 10 open positions – or a 5 percent shortage in their staffing levels.

Hamrick said she was comfortable with those numbers but stated they will continue to recruit at the substitute level. Like Cox, Hamrick encouraged those with an interest in food service to reach out to the district through its website for employment opportunities.

In related food service news, Hamrick said the district is currently serving 6,500 daily breakfasts and 12,700 daily lunches. She said there was only a slight decrease in participation from last year’s numbers when the federal government provided free meals for school districts nationwide due to the pandemic. The measure to continue to provide free meals for school districts nationwide for the 2022-23 school year was not extended by the federal government.

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