COVID-19 is exacerbating a Madison County Public Schools staffing shortage which has been ongoing even before the pandemic, according to school officials.
Madison County Schools Community Education Director Erin Stewart said the school system is seeing a decreasing number of applicants across several positions.
Stewart said the school system is without adequate bus drivers, bus monitors, and substitute teachers in all areas.
"When people think of subs, they immediately think of sub teachers. But we use substitutes in several positions in the district. Our shortage of subs affects more than just teachers and the classroom," Stewart said. "It has greatly impacted transportation, cafeteria staff, custodial staff, as well as classrooms."
Before the pandemic, the average number of active substitutes for all positions in the district was around 500 to 550. Currently, there are roughly 250 substitutes available and eligible to work in the county.
According to Stewart, that number does not reflect the amount of subs who are all regularly working, only the number available to work.
In the beginning of the 2021 school year, the Madison County School Board took on an initiative to incentivize positions for potential subs.
"Substitutes are paid a per diem rate based on their experience and the position they are filling. The board did not authorize a pay increase for substitutes. They did vote at the beginning of the school year to implement an incentive for certified and classified substitutes," Stewart said. "That stipend is $25 per day for work on Mondays and/or Fridays; and an additional $25 for work done on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday if they work every day during a pay period. That incentive was put into place by the board in September and then extended in December for the remainder of the school year."
Hiring has continued throughout the 2021-2022 school year, but still at a decreased rate even after the pay stipend was added. It is a trend which has been ongoing, but sharply increased after the pandemic began, according to Stewart.
Many of the substitutes in the school district were retired teachers. The age of many in that demographic and the nature of the pandemic is a likely cause for some of the shortage issues. However, Stewart said there is a decrease in younger college-aged substitutes as well.
"We have also seen a decrease in the number of college students who previously applied for substitute positions. That, we feel, can be attributed partly to the decreasing numbers of students enrolling as education majors, as well as the change of landscape at the college level. The district is continuing to look for applicants who are qualified for substitute positions," Stewart said.
As applications are still low, the school system encourages anyone who is qualified for substitute positions to apply for a job. Specifications can be found on the school district's website. Despite the current struggles, Stewart said the district is hopeful that staffing numbers will return to their normal levels soon.