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Arkansas schools struggling to fight staff shortages

Shortages of substitute teachers and bus drivers are forcing the state and districts to create long- and short-term solutions to recruit and combat the shortages.

ARKANSAS, USA — School districts across Arkansas are facing staff shortages and it's having a big impact on the district’s current employees, parents, and students.

"We need more help,” said Trent Jones with the Springdale School District. “We need more bus drivers, we need more substitutes."

Jones says these shortages aren't new but at a new high.

"It is a crisis,” Jones said. “Whenever we're having to cancel routes daily or whenever other teachers are getting pulled from their classrooms to into other classrooms, that impacts the quality of learning."

The problem is also impacting districts like Van Buren and Fayetteville with both saying they’re having a bus driver and substitute teacher shortage.

Fort Smith Schools say they are doing fine and Alma Schools are feeling the effects of the shortage some, but not as bad as other districts.

"We have no problem at all with bus drivers,” said Alma Schools Superintendent David Woolly. “We're in great shape." However, Woolly says they’re having a slight shortage of subs.

Due to staff shortages, more districts are creating ways to find new recruits.

"We increased our payment to subs and to bus drivers just to show them that we need you," Jones said.

Starting after Thanksgiving break Springdale is increasing bus driver pay by $20 and subs pay by up to $28 dollars, through covid funds given to schools. The district is also partnering with the chamber of commerce to find help.

"We came up with a thing called the ‘Super Sub’ campaign," Jones said.

Employees of businesses a part of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce can be a substitute, makeup to $117 a day, and promote their company. To apply click here. 

Substitute teachers supervise students and implement teachers' lesson plans in order to support student learning. You must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, as well as a current clear background check in order to qualify for substitute teaching.

"You get to elevate some branding of your business," Jones said. The Springdale School District will promote the ‘Super Subs’ and their business on social media and billboards.

Michele Linch with the Arkansas State Teachers Association says the state is also looking at long-term fixes.

"Students who are in high school, who think education might be their career pathway can begin taking some classes to prepare them for the teacher education program," Linch said.

 This allows the students to be eligible to sub once they graduate high school.  Alma Schools has a similar two-year program and says it’s a success.

The Teacher’s Association says they also have a program to help certify students to become a teacher once they’re in college with the hope that it will turn more students into educators in the Natural State.

While the state and school districts are creating ways to fight staff shortages, Linch says they need relief now.

"There are a lot of creative ways but at the end of the day we got to get more people working," said Linch. 

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