Vt. schools face staff shortages as kids head back to school

Shortages of faculty and staff in schools have resulted in policy changes and a staffing scramble as the school year starts
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 8:51 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There are around 1,200 open positions in the Vermont public school system ahead of the first day of school, according to the Vermont National Education Association.

That includes licensed classroom teachers, paraeducators, custodians and substitutes.

A mix of issues, like COVID-19 stress and fewer educators entering the field, has packed a punch for school districts across the state.

Matthew Fedders, the superintendent of the Central Vermont Supervisory Union, says he’s been busy filling the 35 open positions from 2021.

“My biggest worry is that the past few years and education have been stressful. These vacancies are going to add more stress to the employees that are here. And I hope that it doesn’t further perpetuate this interest in leaving the field,” said Fedders.

Fedders says he scored all the needed staff members, but it wasn’t an easy A thanks to Vermont’s housing crisis.

“We this past summer, hired, I think about five employees who ultimately had to rescind their application because they were unable to find housing, anywhere near the job,” said Fedders.

Fedders says the district also used 10 to 15 provisional or emergency licenses, allowing hires to teach for a year or two with the goal of getting a full professional license.

He says these numbers are higher than usual because of a combination of a lower number of applicants and employees looking to change roles.

In the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, Superintendent Kristin Hubert says her district issued more provisional and emergency licenses than ever before, citing similar reasons as to why. She adds that some were issued to educators new to the state.

“We had a good amount of teacher turnover across all levels,” said Hubert. “Some of it is retirement. Some of it was people who, you know, had their years of service or were either close enough that they were you know, saying I’m really feeling like I’m gonna take a break.”

Hubert says the biggest needs lie in the staff like custodians, bus drivers and substitutes.

She says COVID years have emphasized the domino effect of staffing and absences.

“It all kind of snowballs. It isn’t that you just have this one opening, it’s that I have this shortage so I use a sub to do that, which means I don’t have any subs left,” said Hubert.

So what can be done?

Don Tinney, the president of the Vermont National Education Association, says the pandemic emphasized already existing problems with staffing in education.

He says that educators don’t get paid as much as their counterparts and there’s a need to retain the staff currently working.

“We have to address the issue of why people are leaving the profession and why are they not coming in?” Tinney asked. “So look at the combination of salary and benefits, look at the work conditions, look at whatever the geographic location of schools, all of that is combined.”

New legislation in Vermont allows retired teachers to return to the classroom without it hurting their retirement earnings.

The Agency of Education says retired educators returning is used for emergency situations only. Hiring superintendents have to show the AOE that there were no other viable candidates for the position.

Teachers are eligible if they have been retired for more than six months.

Superintendent Hubert says in some instances, retired teachers would come in to substitute, but would fill in so frequently during the COVID-19 years that they’d run out of days as soon as November.

“The new legislation allows retired teachers for at least six months to be able to come in and work in schools for a full year without impacting their retirement,” said Hubert. “We’re hoping that we have some retired teachers who might step up.”

It’s a one-year deal, but retired teachers can be hired for a second year if they’re in a new position.

Other suggestions include temporary licenses.