The Washoe County School District is considering bonuses to recruit more than 150 people to drive school buses, work in school cafeterias and help clean and sanitize buildings.
“It’s happening in other industries, and it’s not just unique to Washoe County,” said Superintendent Kristen McNeill as the district prepares to launch a massive recruiting campaign by advertising on TV, radio, home mailers and on billboards.
“This is one of the tighter labor markets I have experienced in my 28 years,” said McNeill of her nearly three decades as an employee of the district.
The district plans to release plans to recruit and incentivize for certain positions including for bus drivers. It could mean signing bonuses for some.
The district said it is short more than 50 bus drivers, which threatens the nearly 9,000 students signed up for summer school and thousands more beginning in August when the 2021-22 school year starts.
The bus driver shortage goes up to more than 70 if the district includes drivers on long term leave. The district said it has also been using almost 25 administrative staff daily to help drive children to and from school.
One of the proposed solutions if drivers can’t be hired is to extend the walk zones for elementary school students from 1.25 miles to 1.5 miles.
That would mean an additional 2,000 of the district’s students would no longer have transportation to school.
The district is also considering having single pickup areas in centralized spots. Other options being considered include extending the amount of time students are on a bus and having drivers do double routes.
Custodians, lunchroom employees
Staffing shortages at school sites are also expected to linger as schools open again on Aug. 9, 2021.
“The weakest element is the staffing levels,” said Chief Facilities Management Officer Adam Searcy of plans by the district to maintain cleaning and sanitizing protocols now in place.
The district said it is looking to immediately hire 30 people who can work in custodian and housekeeping departments.
The district’s nutrition services department needs more employees. The district said free meals will be provided again in the next school year, which creates more of a need for employees as thousands of children who opted for remote learning last year return to school buildings.
The district also plans to have students return to typical service lines in cafeterias.
“If we were to open our doors tomorrow for the first day of school, we have 75 openings,” said the district’s Director of Nutrition Services Lianka Soliz.
Soliz said there are some plans if they are not able to hire enough employees including extending lunch times and hiring student employees.
Successful recruiting in 2020-21 for substitutes
The district said it hopes to use similar methods to when it recruited for substitute teachers last year.
During COVID-19, Gov. Steve Sisolak loosened substitute standards and those who only had a high school diploma could get licensed. Under the recruitment process and with fewer requirements, the district was able to hire an additional 300 substitutes.
The district’s head of human resources said people forget about all the positions open in the district.
“They think, ‘Oh, I’m not a teacher,’” she said. “We employ many people, not just only in instruction.”
The district said it is also in need of licensed teachers and classroom aides, specifically those who are trained to work with students with disabilities.
Ellison said the district is also reaching out to former employees, and even if they aren’t interesting in returning, they use those contacts to ask for referrals.
Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.