This school year, things are finally looking up.
“We are sitting in a really, really good position. We’ll be able to start the school year with the staffing we have at all levels,” said Jason Carr, the Communications Director for the Crook County School District.
“We definitely are doing pretty well,” said Kelly Hicks, the Director of Human Resources for the Redmond School District. “This is pretty similar to pre-COVID times.”
Ryan Kelling, the Director of Recruitment and Retention for Bend-La Pine Schools, has seen a similar trend.
“With a little more than a month to go before school starts, we’re encouraged by how few positions we still have available,” he told Central Oregon Daily News on Monday.
A drastic change from the past couple of years, which saw staffing struggles amid teacher retirements and resignations.
“We certainly had some staff members that quit or moved on or retired early just out of concerns either with COVID safety or some of the mask requirements,” Carr said.
The local districts say this year, things are looking back to normal for the most part as far as typical staffing levels at the start of the school year.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re completely out of the woods. Though open certified teaching positions are in the single-digits in each of the districts, there’s a stronger need for classified positions.
“There’s a number of departments where we could use additional folks, so that would be our transportation department, bus drivers, custodial staff, some in technology, also nutrition, so kitchen staff,” Carr said. “Probably the one where we need the most is for our special education program. We’re looking to hire five instructional assistants, so those are probably the jobs that are in highest demand.”
The Crook County School District employs 521 staff members across full-time and part-time positions.
Hicks said they have a similar need in the Redmond School District, which employs around 900 staff members. She said they are still looking to fill around 50 positions total in advance of the school year.
“We are still really looking for special ed teachers, and then classified employees, instructional assistants, custodians, are really our focus from the classified point of view,” she said.
Bend-La Pine Schools, which employs close to 2,000 part-time and full-time staff, has arranged for already certified teachers to be able to gain special education certification, meaning their need for those teachers is lower. But certified staff is still at a deficit.
“In our custodian and nutrition services positions, we are actively looking for new people,” Kelling said.
The High Desert Education Service District supplies substitute teachers across the region, and they faced a massive struggle over the last school year.
“We had in 2021-22 school year, we were down to 550, and that was down from about 1,000 pre pandemic, so our numbers have dropped,” said Kristen Johns, the Human Resources Manager. “And we are really working hard to get our numbers back up to about 1,000.”
Currently, they have around 750 substitute teachers on hand, and they are looking to fill 250 more positions.
Johns said the most difficult positions to fill have been in special education and educational assistants.
“Really our hardest area has been with educational assistants, and we have about 20 of those openings right now,” she said. There are around four open special education teacher positions.
She added that there has been a substitute teaching shortage for several years across the state of Oregon.
“We’ve seen many substitutes decide to take other paths, we have many retirees in our substitute pool who decided this was the time to retire,” she said. “So we’ve been trying to pull in new teachers who are interested in the field, try and get them excited about substitute teaching. It’s a great field, there’s a lot of flexibility, our substitutes get to say when and where they want to work.”
Substitutes working through High Desert ESD are also eligible for paid sick time and other benefits.
Despite remaining challenges, staffing levels this year across Central Oregon schools have taken a strong step out of the shadow of the pandemic.
“We come into this year more optimistic that we’re going to have a more typical school year than we have in years past, and I think that that has brought out more candidates who understand that they’re getting into a school year that is a little more traditional, versus the unknowns of the previous two school years,” Kelling said.
“I think we’re all looking forward to getting back to really focusing on growing students, and just really focusing on instruction and creating well-rounded students who are ready to take their next step in society,” she said.
Bend-La Pine Schools are hosting job fairs over the next two Thursdays at Bend High School. For more information and to view open positions with the district, visit the hiring page here.
The Crook County School District is hosting a job fair at Barnes Butte Elementary on Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information and to view open positions with the district, visit the hiring page here.
The Redmond School District does not plan on hosting another job fair this year but you can view open positions with the district on their hiring page here.
For more information or to view open positions with the High Desert Education Service District, visit their website here.