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School District considers no-meeting weeks, flexible schedules to mitigate staff shortages

No easy answers but ‘we can make a difference’

Pamela Manson
For The Park Record
The Park City School District.
Park Record file photo.

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing staffing shortages, the Park City School District is looking for ways to retain and attract teachers and other employees.

Ideas officials are considering range from ones that would be cheap and easy to implement to others that would take more time and money to put into place.

At a Wednesday work session, Human Resources Director Shad Sorenson gave members of the Board of Education an example of the problem — 15 classes at Ecker Hill Middle School still needed teachers to fill in that day, in addition to the classes already being covered by substitutes.



He said the surge in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant is not the sole reason for the shortage.

“Not only are we trying to teach those that are here, we’re trying to teach those that aren’t here,” Sorenson said. “That has been happening throughout the pandemic.”



There also are shortages of bus drivers and food service workers, he said, adding that staffing problems are impacting schools nationwide.

Sorenson said he has received suggestions from teachers, principals, district administrators, students and others on how to alleviate the shortage. The nearly 50 ideas that are being considered focus on dealing with increased workloads, class and assignment coverage, and employee emotional health and well-being.

There are no silver bullets “but through consistent little tweaks, progress, ideas, goals we can make a difference,” Sorenson said.

Ideas include increasing substitutes’ pay, having permanent substitutes in each building and giving teachers end-of-year bonuses.

Using volunteers to be in classrooms monitoring the students of teachers who are quarantining but feel good enough to teach them remotely also was suggested.

Other ideas are a “no meetings week” in the days leading up to final exams to lessen workloads, which would reduce stress at a busy time, and flexible schedules that would allow teachers to leave the building on Friday afternoons when students aren’t there.

An out-of-the-box suggestion is to have a staff counselor who would move among the schools to help with employee mental well-being, Sorenson said.

“In addition to your counseling insurance benefit that you can use, this would be a person that could give you the immediate support you need,” he said. “Maybe you are dealing with a COVID crisis, maybe you’re dealing with something you’re not expecting, maybe you’re wanting some career counseling.”

Among suggested morale boosters are providing free food in faculty lounges, having recognition programs to acknowledge accomplishments and express appreciation to employees for a good job, holding exercise classes before or after school so staff members don’t have to pay for a gym membership and providing the opportunity to learn a new skill or take up a hobby.

For example, Sorenson said, a teacher could hold a class on 3-D printing and participants could keep the finished product or someone could show a fellow employee how to knit.

“Maybe our culinary instructor teaches them how to make an amazing dessert and on Friday nights, they’re taking home a cake,” he said.

Another idea is to provide bus driver training to other employees, such as custodians, and give them extra compensation, Sorenson said. Once those employees received the appropriate license, they would be ready to step in when needed.

“We know it would be overtime,” Sorenson said. “It’s probably more cost effective than charter buses.”

Board member Kara Hendrickson said she likes the no-meetings idea because it would give teachers more time to prepare for classes. She also said that on Friday afternoons, when teachers have professional development time after students leave for the day, they should be allowed to “do what they think is necessary, even if it is going cross-country skiing.”

“Mental health is the most important part of this,” she said.


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