[ teaching & learning ]

Staff shortages plague many districts

By Sylvia Saunders



rom bus drivers to school nurses to teachers, districts statewide were scrambling to fill a variety of staff vacancies before the opening of the school year.

A number of districts were offering signing bonuses, incentives for hard-to-fill subject areas and even negotiating jobsharing for retirees.

Local union leaders reported the shortages seem to be most acute in big city, rural and high-need districts. In addition to a lack of certified teachers, districts reported difficulty hiring teaching assistants, teacher aides, maintenance workers and bus drivers.

With hundreds of positions still unfilled in mid-August, Rochester TA President Adam Urbanski warned there is a good chance students will be in combined classes at least a portion of the school year.

“The number of teachers resigning is increasing every day,” he said in August. “We have a serious, serious problem. Very few are leaving the profession. The overwhelming majority are switching jobs and signing up with surrounding districts where they feel conditions for teaching and learning are more reasonable.”

Syracuse started the summer with about 300 teaching vacancies and was actively reaching out to retirees. “We have a crisis on our hands that needs attention at all levels,” said STA President Nicole Capsello.

To encourage some of the state’s estimated 200,000 retired educators to rejoin the workforce, Gov. Kathy Hochul has temporarily waived the $35,000 income limit for retirees collecting a pension.

Some districts are using federal relief funds to address staff shortages. Lansingburgh, a small city district outside Troy, advertised a four-year, $3,400 “recruitment stipend” for hard–to-fill positions. The stipend is geared to teachers in special education, reading, English as a New Language, English Language Arts, Spanish and biology. With a shallow pool of substitutes, many districts are offering teachers extra pay to pick up a class during their planning period.

Help Wanted
In other states, severe shortages have led to desperate measures. In California, Texas and Missouri, some districts have shortened school weeks to four days. In Arizona, undergrads who are enrolled in education programs are allowed to begin teaching before they earn their bachelor’s degree. Florida is issuing temporary certificates to veterans who have 60 hours of college credit to teach for up to five years while they pursue a bachelor’s degree. Other states are recruiting in places like Jamaica and South America.

“Many of these are short-term, stop-gap measures,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “It’s time for policymakers to think long-term and do everything they can to improve recruitment and retention.”

That means streamlining the certification process, investing in mentorship programs and providing financial incentives, DiBrango said. It’s also a matter of improving teaching and learning conditions.

“When word gets out that a district is investing in lowering class size or hiring more counselors and social workers, that district’s going to have less trouble recruiting,” DiBrango said. “Educators are burned out from the pandemic and have serious concerns about school safety. They want to work where they feel valued and respected.”

NYSUT has been out front sounding the alarm. The union’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative, which began four years ago to address the teacher shortage and improve diversity in the educator workforce, has awarded dozens of grants for local unions to create “Grow Your Own” programs to encourage middle and high school students to consider a career in education. For resources, visit takealookatteaching.org.