Help abounds, but so do vacancies

School districts in Marin have $102 million in COVID-19 relief funds, but their spending is being slowed by difficulties hiring qualified staff.

Employees such as instructional coaches, counselors and tutors are especially needed to address mental health challenges and the loss of academic learning exacerbated by the pandemic. But these employees are in high demand.

“All districts are working together to fill these positions,” said Mary Jane Burke, superintendent of schools for the county. “We held more targeted job fairs and used strategies using QR codes for job descriptions and LinkedIn.”

Despite these efforts, more than 300 vacancies were still posted at Marin schools for graduate teachers and classified staff at the end of November.

According to a tally from EdJoin.org, an online educational job board, most openings were in the Novato Unified School District, where 111 jobs were listed. Of these, 37 held certified positions – such as teachers, counselors and psychologists – while 35 held classified positions such as catering and paraprofessionals or teaching aides, and 17 were sports coaches.

Schools in the city of San Rafael had 49 openings, while the Mill Valley School District listed 55 vacancies. The Ross Valley School District had 31 openings and there were 30 in the Marin County Office of Education.

Jim Hogeboom, superintendent of schools for the city of San Rafael, estimated that while many certified positions in his district have been filled, there are still eight to 10 classified positions still open.

“These classified positions, such as teaching assistants, are harder to find,” Hogeboom said.

Christina Perrino, director of communications for the San Rafael district, said a “significant number” of certified COVID-19 relief positions “have been filled by our in-house teachers and coaches in new positions.”

“We had a harder time hiring staff to expand our after-school programs in our elementary schools, funded by the Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant,” she said.

At the Ross Valley School District, officials were also able to use COVID-19 relief money to hire teaching, special education and “wellness coach” positions within the district, totaling equivalent of 2.4 full-time staff, said Chris Carson, the district’s chief business officer.

“We were also able to hire intervention teachers and elementary counselors using those same funds,” he said.

The district is “struggling, however, to fill teaching aide positions,” Carson added.

“We have been actively recruiting for these positions since the funds for paraeducators were granted, and we have not yet hired for these positions,” he said.

At Reed Union School District, business manager Carlos Estrella said certain categories of staff were hard to find.

“At RUSD, we have had challenges with substitute teachers and finding classified support staff, especially finding special education aides and general education aides,” Estrella said.

The $102 million in COVID-19 relief grants come from nearly a dozen state and federal programs and are designed to get students back on track academically and with their health.

John Carroll, the county’s superintendent-elect of schools, said each district has its own discretion on how to use the funds — but that depends on its ability to find qualified candidates to hire.

“That sounds like a really good problem to have,” said Carroll, who takes over Jan. 2. “How to spend all that one-time money.”

Ken Lippi, assistant superintendent in the Marin County Office of Education, said the office has been working to create more pathways for new teachers since before the pandemic. The pandemic has created more urgency, Lippi said.

Among its recruiting efforts, the bureau has helped San Rafael High School establish an “education academy,” where high school students can take education classes to see if they are interested in pursuing careers in the arts. education.

A second education academy is planned for next year at Terra Linda High School, Lippi said. This program will be open to Terra Linda students as well as other interested individuals from surrounding areas.

Another education academy is also planned at Novato High School, Lippi added.

“We want to use these courses to make students aware of the job opportunities that exist in education,” Lippi said.

Education academy students who want to pursue a career in teaching could be offered summer positions or part-time jobs as paraprofessionals in the various school districts, Lippi said.

Meanwhile, the San Rafael District is implementing a program for adults with a bachelor’s degree who work in classified positions but want to earn a teaching degree.

The program, funded by a state grant, offers stipends of $20,000 to each prospect to enroll in a teaching certification program, he said. Hogeboom said he expects the program to begin next fall.

San Rafael also plans to launch a “teacher residency” program next year to get a head start on recruiting for future vacancies.

Kate Lane, assistant superintendent in the Marin County Office of Education, said one-time COVID-19 relief money came from various state and federal programs. Districts with more students from low-income families, English Learners or foster children received more funding in some cases.

According to MCOE, the following totals were received as part of the COVID-19 humanitarian assistance:

Marin County Office of Education, $4.6 million; Phoenix, $15,790; Bolinas-Stinson Union School District, $285,098; Miller Creek School District, $4.4 million; Kentfield School District, $2.4 million; Laguna Co-ed School District, $65,369; Lagunitas School District; $469,252; Larkspur-Corte-Madera School District, $3.1 million; Mill Valley School District, $5.8 million; Nicasio School District, $87,688.

Also, Novato Unified School District, $24.6 million; Reed Union School District, $2.55 million; Ross School District, $592,845; San Rafael City Schools, Elementary District, $21.4 million; San Rafael City Schools, School District, $10.16 million; Sausalito Marin City School District, $1.8 million; Tamalpais Union High School District, $11.3 million; Shoreline Unified School District, $1.7 million; Ross Valley School District, $4.1 million; Novato Charter, $449,999; (formerly) Willow Creek Charter, $1.4 million; Ross Valley Charter, $551,895.

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