Needs that remain may not be as dire for Martinsville, Henry and Patrick County school systems as other districts in the region, but each say the problems are real.
As of July 22, Franklin County Public Schools said they were short 20 bus drivers and had no substitute drivers. That means if a driver fails to make it to work, students may be late getting to school or getting home from school.
Travis Clemons, executive director of administrative services for Martinsville Public Schools, said as of Friday his district was short five drivers earlier in the week, but had hired two. With three full-time driving positions still open, they are in need of two or three substitute drivers.
“We pay for licensure to help them get there and if you work for a period of time, you get a signing bonus,” said Clemons.
Henry County is in need of 14 bus drivers and three special population bus aides. Their staffing shortage extends not only to bus drivers, but includes a shortage of teachers and support staff.
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“Each member of our team is critical in ensuring the success of our students,” said Henry County Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer. “It is difficult to support student learning without the necessary staff to do so.”
With a start date of Aug. 10, in addition to bus drivers, a variety of paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers and various other vacancies, Henry County is still looking for two school psychologists, three special education teachers, three middle school teachers, two technology teachers and two school counselors.
Patrick County Schools Superintendent Jason Wood said despite having increased pay for all support positions in January and another 10% increase for the upcoming school year, one bus route remains unfilled and several substitute driver positions remain open.
“During the 2021-2022 school year, we never had to contact families to say that we could not run a route and that is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our drivers and transportation department,” said Wood.
But that means that if a driver is ill or unable to work and a substitute is not available, a mechanic, the director of transportation, a transportation administrative assistant or even the superintendent may end up covering a route.
Both Patrick County and the City of Martinsville say staff members who hold a CDL license will likely be called upon to cover field trips and athletic games to ensure the transportation needs are met.
“A couple of our coaches got their CDL and drive for their own events,” said Clemons. “We depend on the City Transportation Department to keep our buses rolling, but they are having a hard time being down a mechanic or two, so everything is dependent on everything else. We have to do this on the fly to some degree and it impacts families and students.”
The problem of unfilled needs in schools began to surface several years ago in Henry County, but following the pandemic, they say the issue has become more prevalent across the country and is even worse in our area than before.
“Our staff has been working diligently through the spring and summer to recruit teachers through participation in job fairs, advertising vacancies around the state and encouraging career switchers in the community,” Strayer said. “Likewise, we have staff members working in the areas of need who are reaching out to friends and acquaintances to encourage them to join us in making a difference in the lives of students in our community by exploring the meaningful career opportunities we have available.”
Henry County recruits on various websites and job boards including its own website, HBCUCareers.com, K12JobSpot.com, SchoolSpring.com, indeed.com and the Virginia Workforce Connection. They also conduct and participate in job fairs, utilize their social media sites, recruit through college and university educator programs, and use print and online advertising including the Martinsville Bulletin.
With Martinsville schools scheduled to begin the school year on Aug. 8, anyone interested in employment is encouraged to check the school district’s website for applying for all jobs other than the bus driver positions. People interested in driving should inquire with the bus garage directly at 276-403-5860,Clemons said.
“Human resources will take you through the hiring process, but you can basically apply online or through the [phone] number,” Clemons said.
Said Martinsville Superintendent Zebedee Talley: “Drivers are essential for our division. We want to ensure that our students are safe daily and that they can participate in extracurricular activities. We need drivers and substitute drivers to make sure that our daily schedule runs properly.”
In Patrick County a bus driver in training will be paid while taking the CDL classes, and an employee with the school district is certified to administer the DMV assessments, saving the trainee from having to go to a DMV office for classes or to take the behind-the-wheel training and assessments.
Anyone interested in employment with Patrick County Public Schools is encouraged to apply on their website. They have openings not only for bus drivers, but also for cafeteria employees, custodians and teacher assistants and say they are looking to “add excellent employees” to their “Patrick County Public Schools family.” The first day of school in Patrick County is Aug. 10.
“The teacher shortage is a national problem that I hope gains more attention from our legislators,” said Wood. “We need incentives for students to pursue teaching as a career and we need to compensate our teachers fairly so our amazing educators remain in this rewarding career.”
Wood said the same sentiment extended to the support personnel.
“They are dedicated individuals who have a profound impact on the lives of children and they need to be recognized for all their hard work and the positive influence they have on our students.”
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-591-7543. Follow him @billdwyatt.