Staffing levels still a concern in South-Western City Schools

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The supervisors with the transportation department and the food services department recently presented the South-Western City Schools Board of Education with its annual report. The officials said that while the full-time staffing levels are stable, they continue to struggle to find individuals who can fill in on an as-needed basis.

At the Jan. 22 board meeting, transportation supervisor Tim Cox reported that there are 179 bus drivers currently on staff – enough for every school bus within the department’s vast fleet.

“They are all fantastic and they do a great job for us,” he said.

There are also more than four dozen bus aides on hand, a slight increase from the annual report that was released last year.

Cox said the number of full-time bus drivers and the number of bus aides give him some level of comfort when it comes to the daily operations of the transportation department, but what continues to cause concern is the number of substitute bus drivers available.

“Currently we have 18 substitute drivers,” he said.

While that amount of available substitute drivers is more than most districts in the state and throughout the country have, Cox said the official number is “a little skewed.”

“Of those 18 substitute bus drivers we have, eight of them are just field trip drivers,” he said. “Since they are just available to come in for field trips, that leaves us with about 10 who can come in and cover regular routes for us.

“That is just not enough for a district of our size, especially since we are averaging 20 call outs a day (during the cold and flu season),” he said.

Cox said the district continues to recruit substitute drivers – most of whom he hopes will transition to full-time bus driver status – but admitted it has been “slow going” thus far.

“It can be a long process to get them out on the road,” he said. “For the vast majority of them, they can’t just apply to a position, be hired, and then be put behind the wheel of a bus within a day or two.”

He said what has helped the district recruit substitute drivers has been covering the expenses incurred as they go through the process to obtain their Commercial Drivers License and increasing wages and lump sum benefits.

The district currently pays full-time bus drivers $21.39 per hour. Substitute bus drivers receive $19.23 per hour with lump sum bonuses of $500, $750, and $1,000 if they are on the job for 50 days, 100 days, and 150 days, respectively.

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

“It is not an easy job but it is a rewarding one,” he said.

Lisa Hamrick, the supervisor of the food services department, also shared their current staffing levels at the board meeting.

According to Hamrick, the staffing situation at the food services department has rebounded from three years ago when they had more than 30 open positions.

“Staffing is doing much better, I am so glad to say,” she said.

The food services department has 189 employees, including a head cook stationed at each school and at least 5 to 10 cooks at each of the elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools. But where they continue to see a gap is at the substitute level.

“I would say that our recruiting is going well, but it’s just about finding the right people,” she said.

Like the transportation department, the food services department prefers to hire people at the substitute level first and then transition them to a permanent role. Hamrick said by doing so, they are giving their potential full-time employees a glimpse at what it takes to serve meals to thousands of students each day.

“It gives them that one-on-one experience,” she said.

Some discover that it is harder than initially thought, she said, while others find the flexible schedule to be a benefit.

“Our schedules are much like the schedules for our students here,” she said. “Our staff is in school while the kids are in school, our staff is off when the kids are off. That is a real draw for many of the employees here at the food services department.”

Hamrick said there is not a specific number of substitutes they are looking to hire – “our motto is the more we have, the better it is for everyone,” she quipped – but added that they are recruiting for the remainder of this calendar year and the next calendar year as well.

“It’s hard work but it can be a lot of fun,” she said.

The district currently pays substitute cooks $14 per hour. There is no state requirement to take a civic service test for these positions.

Individuals who are interested in applying for an open position in the food services department can also reach out to the district for employment opportunities through its website, swcsd.us.

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