North, Parkway School District combat support staff shortages

With+the+bus+driver+shortage%2C+North+is+not+able+to+offer+an+activity+bus+at+4%3A30+p.m.+Yet%2C+MSHSAA+and+the+state+of+Missouri+require+a+5%3A30+p.m.+athletics+bus+to+ensure+that+each+student+has+equal+opportunities+to+participate+in+sports.

With the bus driver shortage, North is not able to offer an activity bus at 4:30 p.m. Yet, MSHSAA and the state of Missouri require a 5:30 p.m. athletics bus to ensure that each student has equal opportunities to participate in sports.

Noah Sentnor, Side Dish Czar

Schools across Missouri are facing a problem. Right now, there are not enough bus drivers, substitute teachers or custodians to make schools run smoothly.
“People have found ways to work during the pandemic, and some of those ways are going to continue, thus preventing us from being able to do things. For instance, you can’t make a bus driver virtual, but a lot of companies found work from home jobs and people are choosing to take those,” said assistant principal and Parkway North transportation liaison Michael Zitzer.
COVID-19 negated the need for most substitutes as teachers could just pivot to an asynchronous day if they were out. However, this year is different. There have been multiple times this year when there are simply not enough substitutes to fill teacher vacancies. Hence, Parkway North principal David Jones has been sending out emails to the Parkway North staff asking them to help out their colleagues when they are absent. The emails ask teachers if they are willing to sub during their plan period.
“When [Mr. Jones] first started sending [the emails] out, I originally thought there was no way I would ever have a plan period free to [help out]… because I’m already so stressed,” said English teacher Scott Kreher.
As the year went on, however, there were a few instances when Kreher needed to leave school early and had to rely on other teachers to cover for him. This helped him realize the importance of supporting the other staff members in the building. That is when Kreher helped out and subbed for a teacher during an Academic Lab.
“You’re just doing it because you want to help keep the school stay afloat, to ensure learning for the students as best as you can,” said Kreher.
So far, North has been able to have teachers in every class. However, the limited number of bus drivers is impacting the school in a different way.
“When students decided to come to school in-person, they had to elect whether they wanted transportation. This made it possible for Parkway to provide transportation to every student who wanted it,” said Zitzer.
There are some bus routes that have been condensed, which means that some are longer than normal, but everyone is still getting to school on time.
Another difference this year is that there is no bus to take students home from extracurricular activities, detention or tutoring after school. This caused a lot of clubs to shift to meeting virtually or during Academic Labs.
“Since there are no buses after school, [the Black Student Union (BSU)] can’t meet then,” said senior and BSU founder Ilori Tankpinou. “I think there has been a decrease in participation. I know for [BSU], it has been really hard getting people interested… and I think that part of that can be attributed to the absence of the activity bus,” said Tankpinou.
In addition to subs and bus drivers, the support staff shortage has impacted North’s custodian staff too.
Kiet Nguyen, North’s head custodian, has been at the forefront of the support staff shortage. Custodian workers are down considerably. Parkway’s website has job postings for three bus driver positions and 22 custodians.
Of course, an easy way to attract people to a job opening is to increase the starting pay. The starting pay for a bus driver is $16.00/hour, and the starting pay for custodians is $13.00/hour. However, increasing starting pay isn’t as easy as it seems.
“It’s not that cut and dry. [Public schools] don’t have revenue. We can’t sell a product to make more money,” said Zitzer. “When an expense is increased, it has to come from somewhere else unless taxes are raised.”
Another way schools could attract employees, as well as retain the employees they have, is by creating an environment that people want to work in and be a part of. Kreher calls the students of Parkway North to action.
“Who would want to come in and be disrespected by a student? I don’t see anyone wanting to stay [at North] if the bathrooms are constantly getting destroyed. It’s up to the whole community to be respectful to everyone that has a job here,” said Kreher. “Extend kindness. A lot of people are asking for it, but we all have to show it to others in return.”