Hudson School District support staff have been catching up all summer. With three months left in the 2021-22 school year, staffing shortages began to demand a level of teamwork that he hadn’t had before.
District administration, human resources and teachers spent time in school kitchens to help nutrition staff serve students.
There were too few hands on deck for the remaining ladies to do the job on their own.
A few weeks before the start of the 2022-23 school year, the situation has not gotten any easier.
It’s time to find the 80+ support staff needed to fill current vacancies, including custodial staff, paraprofessionals, school crossing guards, a variety of nutrition service positions, caregivers school age and more.
“Every year it got harder,” said assistant director of student services Jordan Wood. “This year is by far the most difficult.”
Wood spent hours each day interviewing applicants for positions within the Student Services Department. These openings include a variety of support roles, such as paraprofessionals and special education teachers. He explained that these are unique roles that change every year, depending on which students come through the doors and what supports they need.
Athletic game workers
Noon duty supervisors
office administrative assistants
Paraprofessionals, Special Education
Raider Fitness Center Wizards
Alternate support staff
He is currently looking to fill over 20 positions.
The various departments have had a number of applicants and interviews, however, unlike previous years, more applicants seem to be disappearing from the map after their interviews. Or even before.
“You think, ‘yes, we’re ready to hire you.’ And then they disappear. They don’t respond,” said Tracy Habisch-Ahlin. Habisch-Ahlin is the assistant director of community relations and works directly with school-age care, another department facing severe shortages of personal.
In June 2022, the unemployment rate in Wisconsin remained very low, at 2.9%, according to the Department of Workforce Development.
People are working.
While no one can say for sure why this challenge has escalated so much this year, there are a few things district leaders are wondering about.
“I think the pandemic has just shaken people up a bit,” said assistant director of nutrition services Nickole Siegman.
After COVID-19, labor shortages in almost every industry seemed to be a trend.
Another is interest. Wood called on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin-Stout seeking potential candidates for available positions in his department.
“They don’t have as many people in their programs as they used to,” he said.
Affordable housing was another aspect that Habisch-Ahlin knows is an obstacle for many. In Hudson, even a competitive salary, benefits, and severance pay can’t erase the fact that living here isn’t always a feasible option. For commuters, many of the same jobs available in Hudson can be sought in other school districts where the cost of living is lower.
All positions have been updated with competitive salaries with benefits and bonuses to try to attract candidates.
For nutrition services, staff and their district children receive free meals.
For school-age child care staff, their children in the neighborhood are offered free child care.
Additionally, a $250 hiring bonus and a $1,000 retention bonus have been added to the list of benefits for some of the vacancies.
This is in addition to health care, dental care and other routine benefits provided to full-time employees.
The district provides all it can, but knows it is competing with private sector jobs that can provide much more.
At some point, it all comes back to work.
“Not just me, but there are so many people in my department who want to do their best for students, and are we going to be able to do that? Are we going to be able to do the best we can? asked Siegman.
Serving 2,500 meals a day, district-wide, nutrition services can do little when they are understaffed.
“I don’t think people still realize how much prep it takes to get this food out,” Siegman said.
She recounted an interaction she had with her mother when she discussed the situation facing her staff.
“Worst case scenario peanut butter and jelly,” her mother said.
At first glance, this may seem like a viable, temporary solution. Logistically, it is not as simple as it seems.
“Think about making 900 peanut butter and jellies,” she said. “Even something as simple as that takes a lot of work.”
It takes training and a number of skills to work in any kitchen, but a unique set to work in a school.
In nutrition services alone, 15 jobs are open.
Siegman spends a lot of time planning menus, but it heavily depends on how many employees she has to execute those meal choices. With fewer staff, lunches need to be simplified, despite Siegman’s ultimate goal of getting back to the kitchen from scratch.
In the meantime, there are only a limited number of options available to continue serving thousands of meals a day to students of all ages. When there are not enough staff to serve lunch either, the number of meal options available to students that day, especially in high school, decreases.
The challenges are immeasurable and cyclical. Often an attempt to relieve tension in one department can cause it in another.
There are only a certain number of days disposable trays can be used in the cafeteria line when there is no one to operate the dishwasher. When this happens, limited housekeeping staff have to deal with the dining room waste more often, setting aside other potential tasks at that time.
When the human resources staff take a few hours out of their workday to help serve lunches at Hudson High School, the workload in their office begins to pile up.
“Where are we ready to accept the discomfort, because it hurts more,” Wood said of how staff need to figure out where to let go and where to put energy, collectively. “We are ready to fight this pain so that it is taken care of.”
Siegman, Wood and Habisch-Ahlin already feel like they’re asking a lot of their staff. It is difficult to ask them to take over more for the positions left vacant. And despite the continued dedication and commitment of many, in support departments and otherwise, operating a school that lacks more than 80 staff is not sustainable.
“It’s survival mode,” Siegman said.
Wood and other leaders are prepared to work with candidates, as much as they can, to find them a place in the district.
While things like work hours can’t be adjusted for paraprofessional candidates, as students are in buildings at set times, Wood can work with candidates on certifications and licenses required to perform specific jobs.
Additionally, options to work a few part-time jobs around the district to create full-time pay and benefits, such as morning nutritional services and afternoon school-age childcare, can be arranged. .
For support staff, the application process is a simple eight-question form, many of which are name, contact information and the positions you are interested in.