School staffing crunch prompts rural districts to make cuts and shuffle staff, survey shows

With the first day of school just weeks away, the state’s rural districts are scrambling to fill positions, prompting many to cut electives, increase class sizes, and hire unlicensed teachers. being inspired to.

in a new In a Wisconsin Rural School Coalition survey of 80 rural school districts, 74 percent said they are still struggling to fill at least one support staff position, and 69 percent are still looking for at least one teacher. are in. More than 16 per cent are still short of three or more teachers.

“I don’t want to be doom and gloom,” said YRSA executive director Jeff Ed. “Because the support staff is leading the way big time and doing things that just have to be done because they love what they’re doing.”

More than two-thirds of these schools have made changes to deal with staffing shortages, including increasing class sizes by at least 20 percent, sometimes by as much as 50 percent.

Many said they had cut back on electives and extra-curricular activities. Some have increased the workload or combined positions of teachers. Others have moved teachers around or appointed long-term substitutes, sometimes putting them in charge of classes with little to no teaching experience.

“If they have a deficit in the primary sector, they can increase the class size to meet that need,” Ead said. “They may bring in a temporary teacher who is not certified at this time, but is going through their certification to satisfy the requirement.”

According to Superintendent Mike Beghley, the Whitehall School District is one of several districts struggling to fill important positions. There are at least five support staff and one special education teacher in the district.

“We’re just seeing a dramatic reduction in the number of applicants for positions,” he said. “Where we used to get 20 or 30, or maybe even 100, now we get very little, if any.”

He said that out of a handful of applications, he has twice made offers for special education positions. Both the times the candidate rejected it.

In this case, the reduction is not due to a lower than average salary, Beghley said. The starting salary for teachers in the district is $40,299, topping The state’s average starting salary is over $1,300.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “Certainly the pandemic and the stresses that have come with it are part of that. I think the overall erosion of at least the perceived public support of education adds to this. Certainly our ability to provide any long-term stability for our teachers is certain. Not exactly what it used to be.”

Schools are turning to a “fiscal rock”, he said.

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During the pandemic, the state legislature halted funding for public schools, forcing administrators to pull from the pandemic relief fund for basic expenses such as salaries and utility bills. But that money will dry up in September 2024, and Beghley said it makes it difficult for schools to plan for the future.

School District of Arcadia administrator Lance Bagstad said fiscal uncertainty and pandemic-related stress have made it difficult for all districts to rent, with rural schools facing additional challenges.

The district still has fewer teachers for high school English, middle school science, third grade and fourth grade, plus two speech and language teachers and one school counselor. Bagstad said he has little or no applications for each position.

“With the shortage of teachers available in the state of Wisconsin right now,” he said, “almost every position is becoming more and more important and difficult to fill.”

To deal with the shortage, they are filling positions with long-term substitute teachers, which they said make it harder for students to build lasting relationships with their teachers and spare them the option of remaining sick or on vacation. exerts pressure.

He said that one reason for the shortfall is that the district cannot meet the salaries paid by the larger districts. He also said that teachers often work from big cities and leave when they find a job closer to home.

Another thing is that many teachers, especially recent graduates, do not want to go to the field.

“Rural communities do not have the facilities that big cities have,” he said. “Things like DoorDash, or Uber, or Lyft, or just a movie theater down the streets, or the social connections that college students and recent college graduates have made in those big cities.”

The problem has been growing for years, he said, but there are solutions in the works. He said the University of Wisconsin-Platteville has created programs to support teachers interested in teaching in rural areas. In Arcadia and surrounding districts, they are considering helping teachers with tuition in exchange for working there for several years. The district is also exploring alternative ways to certify more people as teachers.

But a major way, he said, is rebuilding support for education and increasing state funding.

“Our public schools, especially in rural communities, should be seen as an investment, not a burden on the tax base,” he said. “If we don’t start thinking like that, public schools are in trouble.”

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