Home Lasting Impacts “There’s an exodus.” Just days before school starts, staff shortages loom

“There’s an exodus.” Just days before school starts, staff shortages loom

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At a virtual job fair today and another in person on Thursday, Madison Metropolitan School District officials hope to fill 135 teaching vacancies and hundreds of vacancies in support staff positions like nurses, food service workers, custodians and counselors.

Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a trend of school districts across the country finding it difficult to remain fully staffed.

“Everyone around the world was impacted by the social, emotional, mental health issues … and we took care of not just the child, but the whole family, the community. But now as we emerge, it is mass fatigue,” he said. “Remember these first, second, third year teachers came in right during the pandemic. They were feeling a little underprepared. They came into education and went right back out of education. It wasn’t teaching as they had been taught. They had to pivot.”

“Not only is there a shortage, there’s an exodus,” said Michael Jones, president of Madison Teachers, Incorporated, the union that represents teachers in Madison. “It’s just been a long time coming.”

Jones said legislative decisions not to increase state funding to keep up with inflation has made it difficult to attract and retain teachers and other staff.

“If we would have just kept up with inflation, in Wisconsin, who have 48 million more dollars in our budget now,” Jenkins said.

“When you set up a system like that, you can’t be surprised when we’re always running into a crisis of not having enough money, and you have employees and people involved in the system are just fed up with always having to beg, borrow and steal in order to just get the bare minimum done,” Jones said. “Let me be clear, this is a plan. The plan is to decentralize and destabilize public education … in order to free it up for private funding so that taxes aren’t attached to public schools.”

Kabby Hong, an English teacher in Verona and the 2021 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, also pointed to state funding as a driver of the shortage.

“The state legislature has really not stepped up and said, ‘Look, we are going to provide the funding that we need to take care of our students, take care of our teachers, take care of our facilities,’” said “This collective sense that, you know, teachers have to do everything, I think, is one of the reasons why you see so many teachers that are leaving the profession, because it is untenable.”

Hong agreed that the pandemic has taken a toll.

“Before last year, I never saw a teacher quit mid year. In fact, that was the ultimate teacher faux pas. No one would do that. And I saw it five or six times in my own district. And I hear that I hear that across the board,” he said.

Jenkins added that overall economic conditions like low unemployment and a job market that favors job seekers exacerbate the difficulty.

“This is the highest number of vacancies we’ve had in the last five years. But when you look at 2017, prior to the pandemic, it’s not that much of a difference,” he said. “But finding people in an employee’s market is a lot different.”

Jones said it’s important to work the problem, but also to be honest with families.

“We will have schools where they will not have the necessary staff to meet the needs of the kids that go to the school,” he said. “We should be very honest about that. We should also do everything possible to try to problem-solve that together, but the first step is admitting that it is an issue and not just kind of crossing our fingers and saying, ‘Well, I hope it resolves itself.’”

Jenkins notes that Madison has 275 “highly qualified” substitutes, and that no classroom will be without a teacher when school starts.

Still, the district is working to fill as many positions as possible in teaching, nursing, counseling, food service and more areas. The virtual job fair is open tonight from 4 until 8 pm. Those interested in teaching positions can register here, and those interested in non-teaching positions can register here. Those interested in serving as substitute teachers can apply here.