School district still facing workforce shortages

Calling for task force help

[ By Kendra Walker ]

The Gunnison Watershed School District continues to experience workforce shortages, and during the December 13 school board meeting superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols reiterated the district’s needs, especially Crested Butte Community School’s needs, for bus drivers, food service workers and substitute teachers.

“Like much of the state and much of the country… we are experiencing workforce shortages along with many businesses in the valley,” said Nichols.

While the district is rolling out a bonus incentives program for existing and new employees, a task force is also in the works to create a strategic plan for alleviating the shortages.

Currently, of 11 bus routes across the district, there are six vacancies. Three of Crested Butte’s four routes are still in need of drivers. Earlier this month, the district was able to start its first bus of the year covering Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. That bus route is being covered by a half-time driver in the morning and a half-time driver in the afternoon.

“That’s a huge win,” said Nichols. But she noted that in order to service CB South, where so many kids live, at least two buses are needed for that zone. “Ideally three,” she said. “When we have the equivalent of two full-time drivers we will add our CB South routes again.”

Food service
Crested Butte is still in need of a kitchen manager, and all five of CBCS’s food service jobs need to be filled. However, there are currently two half-time workers.

Nichols noted that while the many volunteer offers to help in the CBCS cafeteria have been much appreciated, a kitchen manager at CBCS is still needed in order to make steps beyond minimal food service.

“The role of kitchen manger in part is complex and takes a full-time position to make it happen,” she said.

The district currently needs three more permanent substitute teacher positions filled, two in Crested Butte and one in Gunnison. As for daily substitutes, the district has of total of 47 approved teachers. In Crested Butte, Nichols said there are only seven reliable subs for the elementary school and only two reliable subs for the secondary school. Meanwhile, full-time teachers are subbing for other classes when they can.

“The stress that our teachers have felt has been so real this year,” said Nichols. “A lot of disruption occurs when we have to pull teachers from other parts of the building.”

Working on solutions
Nichols shared that she is close to hiring a digital marketing specialist who will work on recruitment and retention, promoting the job vacancies and growing the district’s social media presence to a wider audience. Nichols also said the district is looking to hire a daily substitute coordinator who can help build relationships with the subs, identify needs and help address them.

The district is offering a bonus program for existing and new employees, which will pay a $3,000 bonus for kitchen managers, $2,000 bonus for bus drivers, food service workers and permanent substitute teachers, and will pay daily substitutes $100 for every five days subbed. The district will also cover the cost of substitute teacher licensing.

Nichols is also putting together a workforce shortage task force to create a strategic plan and creative solutions to the workforce shortage issues.

“If you feel motivated, energized, called by the presentation I just made about this serious work of the district,” she addressed the entire room, “If you are excited about this, I am your contact for a task force.”

Nichols noted that other districts in Colorado have already been forced to shorten their school weeks and close on certain days due to workforce shortages.

“I would hate to see workforce shortages force us to close,” she said.

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