Employees at Cherokee County School District’s central office are filling in to cover teachers’ classrooms starting this week, according to district leaders.
Only about two-thirds of CCSD classes with teacher absences are getting filled by substitutes for the whole day, Chief of Staff Mike McGowan told school board members Thursday. The remainder of classes are covered by other teachers or other school staff, or go to another teacher’s classroom, according to the district.
“Our fill rates are rather low,” he said.
The district is seeing staffing shortages in large part due to COVID-19 related absences, including those who test positive for the virus or who are in quarantine due to exposure, district leaders said.
About 100 employees in the school system are out at any given time with COVID-19, McGowan said, “but that’s compounded by those who have students of their own, their children, who have COVID, and we have staff staying home with them.”
“There’s also quite a bit of RSV and some other illnesses in the community right now, as is always the case when we open at the start of the school year,” he said. “So it’s not just COVID that’s causing this problem.”
In all, the district has about 200 employee absences a week, CCSD spokesperson Barbara Jacoby told the Tribune.
CCSD recently hired 80 new substitute teachers in addition to a pool of 600; according to the district, it is continuously reviewing applications and training for new substitutes.
The shortages are not limited to classrooms. Central office staff have worked in school cafeterias to cover absences there, and those who are certified to drive school buses are also driving routes for drivers who are absent, Jacoby said.
Schools are also stretched on custodians, who are tasked with extra sanitizing in addition to their normal cleaning duties, officials said. But leaders said the district’s custodian contractor, ABM, started the school-year short staffed.
“I’ve received several letters from teachers saying their principals are taking the trash out of the bathrooms,” school board member Kelly Poole said.
Superintendent Brian Hightower said ABM is facing recruiting and retention issues similar to those seen in the service industry. He said ABM hopes to cover the work with employee overtime.
“You don’t want to sit on your hands in that scenario,” he said. “But we do need you to realize we’re in a difficult economy. The same reason you’re not seeing servers in restaurants and other people closing because they can’t maintain staff, we’re seeing, at that price point, the same kinds of challenges.”
Sixty certified central office staff and 60 classified employees will cover classrooms and cafeterias on a weekly basis, Jacoby said in an email Monday.
“The plan uses a rotation system to spread the impact across divisions to ensure critical daily functions of central offices can continue. Some projects that are not critical will be delayed as a result,” she said. “The plan will be used for as long as needed during the pandemic.”
In a statement, Hightower said the district is closely monitoring COVID-19 cases and taking steps to make sure they’ll have the staffing to keep schools open.
“From central office certified staff rotating into schools as substitute teachers to classified staff working cafeteria lines to CDL-licensed transportation office staff driving bus routes, we’re ready to bridge the gap and serve,” he said.