Help Wanted signs are ubiquitous of late; a run of errands lends sightings at seemingly every shop or business small and large around the region.
Less visible but more telling are the flyers posted by school districts, which are especially feeling the pinch of labor shortages in the current market as schools wade into the 2021-22 academic year coming off the long pandemic hiatus.
Woodburn School District postings alone indicate a vast pitch for help: Building Substitute Teachers Needed! $230/day; We Are Hiring, Join Our Team! Educational Assistants (Spanish/Russian Bilingual), SPED Educational Assistants, Maintenance, Sports Coaches, Computer/Network Specialists, Recreational Leaders, Home School Contacts.
Another WSD flyer for after-school programs touts "Get Paid To Play!." The district's After School Club offers $12.75 an hour for afternoons spent painting, cooking, crafting, sewing, swinging, reading, running and helping kids with their homework.
Yet still another flyer, this one from the district's transportation provider First Student Transportation, seeks bus drivers, which the flyer describes as "an integral part of the communities they serve. They are committed to safety, customer service, and have genuine, caring attitudes for children. We are your friends, family and neighbors!"
They are also in severely short supply.
"This school bus driver shortage is a nationwide issue," said Brian Shuldberg, regional vice president for Mid-Columbia Bus Company. "Massachusetts activated their national guard because they were so short of school bus drivers.Â Thankfully we haven't had to go that far in Oregon, but it is impacting every district in significant ways."
Like First Student, Mid-Columbia provides k-12 school transportation around the region, including Marion County School Districts of Gervais, Cascade and North Santiam.
"Yes, we too have a shortage," Gervais Superintendent Dandy Stevens said. "We adjusted our start and end times at the middle and high schools because of the shortage.
"In terms of other employees, we need afterschool workers, custodians, and substitutes for all positions," Stevens added.
While the pay is not bad â€“ anywhere from $16.50 to $23 per hour -- Shuldberg attributed the dearth in bus drivers to the job's demographic, usually retired or semi-retired people who are also tend to be more susceptible to medical complications if they contract COVID-19.
"In total, we typically have 580 drivers around the state of Oregon. We are about 10 to 12-percent short of what we need," Shuldberg said.
"We do need bus drivers," echoed Mid-Columbia Manager Rita Armstrong. "Since our administrative meeting in August, we have only had two people who have expressed an interest enough to come in to fill out an application. Once we informed them about the vaccine mandate though, and the options that were available, they were no longer interested in coming to work for us and did not finish the interview."
On Thursday, Sept 23, Armstrong was busy assessing the Gervais situation.
"We currently will have just enough drivers to cover our existing 9 routes after tomorrow," Armstrong said. "This of course does not cover field trips, sports, or afterschool programs. At least one of our drivers that is sharing a route would like to go back into retirement by Thanksgiving.
"To run our existing routes reasonably well, we need a minimum of 3 more drivers. If we were to go back to our regular schedule of about 12 routes like we've had in previous years, we would need a minimum of 6 drivers which puts us 40% plus short," she added.
That logistical equation is a microcosm of a broader scenario, affecting school districts at multiple levels.
"St. Paul, like many other districts, is having difficulty hiring transportation personnel. We have a continuous posting for openings in our district for drivers," St. Paul School District Superintendent Joe Wehli said.Â "Recently St Paul took a drastic step by ceasing all district transportation for students who reside within the city limits, something to my knowledge the district has never had to do.
"Our parents have been very supportive and patient as we now deal with long lines of vehicles at the end of the day when students are released," Wehrli added. "It is our hope that we can resolve this issue soon, as it also impacts our athletics and activities transportation, and we have had to use outside entities to provide some of this service."
One area school district is bucking the trend.
"We are very fortunateÂ in Mount Angel that we currentlyÂ are meeting transportation needs," Mount Angel School District Superintendent Rachel Stucky said.Â "So far we're beating the trend that so many districts are facing."
Need a job?
•A variety of jobs available in the Woodburn School District can be applied for online at http://www.woodburnsd.org www.woodburnsd.org.
•Mount Angel School District jobs are listed at mtangel.tedk12.com/hire
Companies that provide transportation for school districts highlight their competitive wages, flexible hours and paid training. Drivers need to be at least 21 years of age, have a valid driver's license, safe driving record and pass background and drug tests.
First Student Transportation provides services to Woodburn and North Marion school districts. Visit firststudentinc.com/careers.
•St. Paul School District is actively seeking bus drivers; visit www.stpaul.k12.or.us/page/employment or call 503-633-2541.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.