Pasco County Schools has been struggling to fill bus driver, custodial, food service and instructional vacancies — prompting school board member Colleen Beaudoin to seek relief for overburdened workers.
Although the numbers fluctuate from day to day, a recent report showed that the district had roughly 155 instructional vacancies and 348 non-instructional vacancies, according to Steve Hegarty, the district’s public information officer. The non-instructional vacancies include 100 bus driver openings.
“Our folks are really under a lot of stress,” Beaudoin said, during the school board’s Sept. 14 meeting. “We must do something. Our folks need help”
The district has added positions, but is having trouble filling them, she said.
“Grants that were supposed to provide for more nurses to help with contact tracing — people are not taking these jobs. It is stretching our folks too thin.
“On top of that, people are calling our schools and berating whoever answers the phone because they are upset that buses are late.
“Bus drivers have been yelled at. Please consider that you are yelling at the people who are showing up for our kids.
“This problem is not unique to schools, nor is it unique to Pasco County.
“I’ve been to restaurants where there are only two servers at work, and they’re understaffed too.
“We need to be thanking and supporting the people who are showing up,” Beaudoin said.
“Superintendent (Kurt) Browning, I know that you are aware of the stress on our employees.
“Please continue to brainstorm ways to take some things off their plates, prioritize, and let’s try to get them some relief.
“There’s a lot of smart people in this room. I’m just asking you to revisit and remove any unnecessary paperwork, or anything else you can do, to provide some relief,” Beaudoin said.
Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco(USEP), told school board members that he’s been hearing mixed reviews about how the school year is going so far, from school district employees.
“Some who were teaching MSOL (My School Online) last year are glad to be back with students; some teachers are scared to death to be in a classroom with unmasked students, but have no other prudent option.
“We all expected better for this year, but that hasn’t happened. Judgment and emotions have eroded to all-time lows in many cases, and people are at political war with each other.
“Some teachers have expressed that with quarantined students, political disarray and mental frustration running wild, delivering instruction is taking a severe hit in the classroom.
“There’s so much confusion about COVID and so much changing information, it is near impossible to make an informed decision on anything.
“I think it would behoove us all, superintendent, board members, staff, USEP and district employees, alike, to take a step back and see just exactly where we’re at.
“There are many states where schools have not been open for some time, and student learning has been halted. That is not so in Florida.
“We seem to have a balance of keeping our schools and businesses open, and moving our economy forward.
“Are things perfect? No, not at all. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.
“And, much of that improvement can start with us.
“Instead of hollering at the bus driver for being an hour late, how about if we thanked them for being willing to go the extra mile to see that our kiddos get to school and home safely.
“Some of them are running three and four runs.
“Instead of railing at the teacher for not getting right back to the student on quarantine, why not exercise some compassion and restraint, and try to understand that providing makeup instruction for students has now become a full-time job.
“Maybe a thank you to the teacher or bus driver would be more appropriate,” Peace said.
Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent for support services, has been keeping board members informed about the district’s efforts to fill bus driver, custodial and food service vacancies.
And, she repeatedly expressed her gratitude for employees working in departments with significant staffing shortages.
“We’ve had a lot patience and partnerships at schools, as we work through all of this,” Kuhn said.
“We do have some silver linings. HR (Human Resources) has been a wonderful partner in helping us to recruit, and some new ideas, to help as much as possible. And our schools are stepping in,” Kuhn said, during a recent meeting.
“We also have a mini call center. We have started a mini one that involves district secretaries that are answering the phones for the garages because we have anyone who can drive a bus, driving a bus right now. It’s all hands on deck for the transportation department.
Kuhn said her own assistant, “has taken the brunt of those calls.”
Published September 22, 2021