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Staff shortages stem from district competition, occupational disinterest

Samantha Haney
Hall monitor Carren Rogan subs for language arts teacher David Choate during his absence on Sept. 14, 2021. Due to the continued lack of substitute teachers, hall monitors or other teachers fill in when needed.

Rockwood has been experiencing staff shortages in a variety of areas from substitute teachers to custodial staff. Despite district efforts, these shortages have persisted for a number of years and have been felt across the country. Retirements, career changes, and lack of interested jobseekers all factor into the problem.

Teacher shortages are directly impacted by salaries. The 2024 World Population Review found that the starting salary in Missouri ranges from around $38-40,000 while bordering states such as Arkansas have starting salaries around $50,000.

“If you only have to drive a half hour across the border for a $10,000 increase, I think a lot of teachers will take that opportunity,” Missouri State Teacher Association Spokesperson and Communication Director Todd Fuller said.

Fuller said that the importance of raising the salary has become apparent to him, as he’s seen that districts are paying more than the required starting salary already. With inflation and other external factors, Fuller said its important to increase the required starting salary so that teachers are getting fairly paid.

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“If it’s so low that districts don’t even see [state law] as the basis for starting, then we need to do something about this,” he said.

Currently, Fuller has seen several hundred bills that focus on education introduced this past year. He wants to increase the starting salary for public schools in Missouri.

“I’ve heard the amount [proposed for starting salaries] being $40,000, I’ve heard the amount being $42,000, but in reality we’re well behind that,” Fuller said. “If we’re going to be competitive, [starting salaries] need to be at $50,000 or above.”

Based on data from the MSTA, Fuller said Missouri is competing directly with bordering states due to its low average salary.

“We’re the lowest,” he said.

Average salaries of Missouri, bordering states

Infographic by Samantha Haney

Although teaching may be some teachers’ passions, Fuller has seen more opportunities arise for teachers to leave the field for a higher paying job.

“You have to make a living off of something financial. You can’t make a living off of passion,” he said.

There is no clear answer to teacher shortages to Fuller, but districts becoming competitive and implementing creative marketing is a place to start.

“School districts are continuing to look for creative ways to recruit teachers and convince them to come work in their districts,” Fuller said. “Districts are not only competing against each other, they’re competing against other jobs because they just want good employees, and teachers are good employees.”

St. Louis County average salaries by district

Within the past three years, staff shortages have continued to impact Lafayette. During the 2022-23 school year, the lack of available study hall teachers led to In-School Suspension teacher Dale Walker filling a supervisory role. Hall monitors have been substitute teachers and teachers have obtained their bus licenses to continue taking field trips.

“We certainly have less staff in our support staff areas, we have quite a few [shortages] in custodial, transportation and child nutrition,” Rockwood Human Resource Coordinator Stacy Neely said. 

Neely said that Rockwood has been observing these shortages for a few years, but believes a variety of reasons have contributed to it.

“People that have been here have hit retirement age, we’ve had people retire early and the number of applicants has been very low,” Neely said. “[The reason] is kind of a mystery. I think childcare has certainly led to a lack of staffing being available, costs have gone up, so accessing childcare has been very tough.”

In order to try and combat these shortages, Neely says that Rockwood has provided a number of incentives, including allowing snow days for all staff, implementing a $1,500 referral bonus and providing paid holiday break days.

There are also a number of job benefits provided to Rockwood employees.

Infographic by Samantha Haney

Despite hiring struggles, Neely says that the likely of RSD staff members to return has been fairly high. 

“I think that we have done very well. We have two high schools that opened at the same time 30 years ago, so you know we see a lot of retirements just from that. But, we have not seen our retirement numbers escalate significantly in the last few years,” Neely said.

When it comes to replacing retirees, Neely says day shift positions are filled pretty quickly since job listings are posted as soon as a teacher leaves. However, when staff are hired internally, meaning an employee moves from one position to another within the district, Neely says it is more difficult to fill the position left by the employee.

All hires internal or external have to be approved by the Board of Education, so how quickly an employee can begin work depends on the timing of the next board meeting. 

To try and expedite the process for getting custodians working in school, Rockwood has temporarily paused its custodian “training school” and rather has new hires immediately begin building-specific training upon being hired.

“We do not see [our employees get taken by other districts]. We are one of the few districts left that pays the full amount of insurance coverage. All the public school districts participate in the same retirement system so there’s no difference there. And we look at our support staff salaries every year as compared to other St. Louis County school districts and we try to make sure that we’re remaining competitive or above [them],” Neely said.

This story was originally published on The Lancer Feed on January 10, 2024.