CASPER, Wyo. — About one month into the 2021-2022 school year, the Natrona County School District has 93 teacher and other staff positions unfilled.
That is about double the number of positions that are normally still unfilled at this point in the school year, Associate Superintendent for Human Resources & District Services Verba Echols told the NCSD Board of Trustees on Monday.
Human Resources Director Kelly Patik said that the vacancies include:
- 5 administrative positions
- 23 full or part-time certified staff positions
- 65 classified staff positions
“Some of those numbers become alarming,” Echols told the trustees. “We’re not used to having 65 [classified staff] vacancies across the school district. I would say that falls into an anomaly that aligns with what is happening across the country.”
Echols said that districts across the country have been reporting difficulties filling vacant positions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Patik said that the vacancies exist despite work human resources did to hire 91 new certified professionals into the district this year. She said that the district has been struggling to fill classified staff positions in particular.
Those positions include roles like cafeteria staff, bus drivers, custodians or support personnel. Of the 65 unfilled classified positions, Patik said that 41 are library and media-related positions.
Echols praised the work of NCSD’s transportation department that has been able to trim down the number of its vacancies to five.
With the district struggling to fill positions, Echols said that schools and NCSD staff are supporting one another as much as they can to cover for one another.
She said that the district is still actively working to fill vacancies. NCSD job openings can be found online (note that not all 93 openings are currently posted).
In addition to unfilled positions, NCSD is seeing COVID-19 continue to impact teachers and other staff. From September 11-24, NCSD reported 29 positive COVID-19 cases among staff, along with an additional 34 staff members who had to quarantine due to possible exposure to COVID-19.
Echols said that NCSD is not always requiring staff who have been fully vaccinated to quarantine if they have possibly been exposed to COVID-19. She said that staff who are vaccinated, non-symptomatic and feel fine are allowed to continue working while they await COVID-19 test results.
Unvaccinated staff, on the other hand, are asked to use their leave time if they have been exposed to COVID-19. Echols added that vaccinated staff who don’t feel comfortable coming to work after a possible exposure are still able to use their leave time to stay out of school facilities.
Echols noted that COVID-19 is just one driver of teacher and staff absences as people need time off for various other reasons.
The district’s substitute teacher situation is compounding the problem of unfilled positions and teacher and staff absences.
NCSD Director of Human Resources Marie Puryear told the trustees that the amount of substitutes the district has hired is actually in the same ballpark as in years past. The district has 160 certified substitutes, 106 classified substitutes and 30 custodial substitutes.
However, Puryear said that only about 25-26% of those substitutes are actually choosing to fill in when full or part-time staff are absent. Substitutes are not required to fill in when teachers or other staff are out, but rather can choose to do so.
Puryear said that so far in September, the district has already seen 1,670 teacher absences. That is more than the district saw in the entire month of September for the 2020-2021 school year, when NCSD had 968 teacher absences.
Puryear said that throughout the 2020-2021 school year, NCSD substitutes were able to fill about 70% of teacher absences. So far in September, only around 60% of teacher absences have been filled by substitutes.
Puryear said that there is some indication that the rate of teacher absences is trending down and that she hopes that that will continue into October.
With only about 25% of substitutes actually choosing to fill in when teachers are absent, Puryear said the district is working to incentivize more substitutes to accept jobs.
Echols said she is also seeing some tentative signs that impacts from COVID-19 are easing. She said that the district is continuing to use an “absorption” policy: When a teacher is out due to COVID-19 infection or exposure, other teachers at the same grade level are asked to absorb that teacher’s students into their class.
Associate Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Walt Wilcox spoke about COVID-19 impacts on students. NCSD reported that there were 153 students staff that tested positive for COVID-19 for the time period of September 11 – September 24. An additional 540 students had to quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure.
Wilcox said that the district has been seeing around 400 students per day out of in-person classes due to COVID-19 infection or exposure. He said that the length students are out of classrooms varies anywhere from a couple of days to three weeks.
The district offers remote learning to students at home due to COVID-19 infection or exposure. Students are able to study remotely and connect with their regular in-person classroom.
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.