Maine School Administrative District 75 has 23 vacancies for special education staff and 10 for bus drivers, a shortage the superintendent expects to grow worse.
“If anybody out there is interested in driving a bus, have I got a job for you,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Connolly said during a meeting of the Harpswell Board of Selectmen on Thursday, Sept. 29. “By the middle of October, we’ll be down a total of 10 drivers.”
“We’ve already run into two situations this year that we could not meet our obligation without having to double up some groups and also to send a bus back out to make sure that we could get all the kids to school. They weren’t able to get everyone there on time,” Connolly said. “That’s certainly not something we want to see, but we know the problem’s going to get worse, it’s not going to get better.”
The district trains new bus drivers and pays for their fingerprinting, as well as the cost to obtain a commercial driver’s license with a school bus endorsement. New drivers can start with vans before they move up to buses.
“In special education, we’re down 23 staff people across the district,” Connolly said. The number includes paraprofessionals, also known as educational technicians, as well as other positions.
Connolly urged anyone interested in work as a special education paraprofessional to contact him directly at email@example.com or 207-729-9961.
“It’s not an easy role,” Connolly said in a phone interview. The positions are not year-round, although some paraprofessionals stay for summer school.
Connolly said the district could also use 15-20 more substitute teachers. The shortage of substitutes means schools have to shift staff away from their regular responsibilities or ask teachers to give up preparation time.
“It just puts a lot of pressure and a lot of tension on a system to operate like that,” he said.
School staff shortages are a nationwide problem, he said, as teachers and other staff flee the profession because of stress from the COVID-19 pandemic and political and social divisions that find their way into schools.
“There’s nothing coming down the pike that shows us these numbers are going to increase,” Connolly said of the education workforce. He said that MSAD 75 is “trying to be as creative as possible” to attract and retain employees.
Connolly, who started work July 1, attended the Harpswell meeting as part of what he called his “listen and learn tour.” He discussed the budget process, fielded questions, and asked the select board to fill out a survey.
“Give me the unvarnished impressions on what’s working, what’s not working. If you were me, what three things would you focus on first, or what one thing would you focus on three times?” he said.
Connolly told the board that he has family connections to Harpswell. His grandmother was born in Cundy’s Harbor and owned land on Jaquish Island, south of Bailey Island.