Northeast Kingdom communities grapple with school staffing shortages

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:08 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - School staffing shortages are hitting the Northeast Kingdom hard. The Orleans County Supervisory Union is taking a community approach to the problem, with the hope of fixing a critical staffing shortage.

OCSU held a brainstorming session on Tuesday night at Lake Region Union High School, hoping to get ideas from parents. Those ideas included combining grades, uniting schools and utilizing remote education programs.

“I would say this is a chance for us to collaboratively work with the community and get as much input as we can,” OCSU Superintendent Penny Chamberlin said.

Last year, the district had a turnover of 90 employees, which is about one-third of the staff. Chamberlin says the departures started around the time the pandemic was quieting down and students started returning to classrooms. A teacher at the meeting said many students returned with behavioral issues, though it has been a privilege to teach them.

Chamberlin added middle schools in the district are being hit the hardest.

“This particular vacancy is in the Irasburg Village School, but we have five other schools and we are prepared for something of this nature to happen in the near future again,” she said.

Right now, the district has roughly 20 openings, with some job postings being more than a year old. Chamberlin says there haven’t been any viable candidates. With the expectation of staff turnover continuing, the district is turning to parents to help find long-term solutions.

“I think ultimately this problem needs to be solved at the negotiation table,” said Leanne Harple, who has students in the Glover School. “They need better pay. They need better working conditions. They need better benefits.”

“Long term, I think we should open a middle school, a junior high. Hopefully, that would solve some of our staffing problems,” said Jocelyn LaFleur, a parent of Irasburg students. “It would keep our kids together.”

The district has already looked at several ideas like using long-term subs and sharing staff among different schools.

“We need to start at long-term solutions, not just for filling vacancies, but staff retention,” Chamberlin explained.

For those unable to make Tuesday’s forum, the district will collect input online until Nov. 30. They’ll start reviewing the input a little ahead of that date at their next school board meeting in Glover on Nov. 28.