Workforce shortage continues to put squeeze on school district

Be a bus driver instead of a ski instructor

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Workforce shortages continue to plague the Gunnison Watershed School District. Re1J superintendent Leslie Nichols said the lack of workers continues to hamper the district at both ends of the valley but particularly in Crested Butte. That has not changed even after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Across the district we have a 29 percent vacancy rate with bus drivers. In Crested Butte we have one person getting his CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) to drive the bus but only half-time. So, we have a half-time bus driver in training and we need three full-timers to run all the routes up here,” Nichols said in a report to the school board last month. “We are still pleased with our partnership with the Mountain Express and RTA but they aren’t school buses, they are public transit that students can use.”

The cafeteria situation is not much better. Across the entire district there is a 31 percent vacancy rate with food service workers. In Crested Butte there are two part-time regular workers and a pool of volunteers. “We need five more people in the CBCS kitchen,” Nichols said. “Think about how many meals get served in the kitchen at the school. It’s more than 300 meals a day when in operation full-time. That would crush a lot of restaurants. It takes intense staffing to run every day.”

Nichols said the Buddy Box program started by the Mountain Roots organization had been suspended because it did not officially meet the state health requirements. She said work is being done to get that program back and running.

“As for substitute teachers, we are at a 60 percent vacancy rate when it comes to permanent substitute teachers,” relayed Nichols. “There’s not a lot of great news there but we are not alone in the struggle as we all see locally and nationally.”

School board member Dave Taylor said he was concerned that the situation would not improve. “I don’t think the workforce shortages are going anywhere,” he said. “It is possible there will be no buses and no food service in the future across the district? The affordable housing situation combined with the national workforce shortage could be something we’ll be dealing with for a long time.”

Parent Marcus Qualls said it was ridiculous the school board was having to deal with the situation on top of being squeezed financially and dealing with a “frivolous lawsuit” over the district’s mask mandate. “We need to find a way,” he said. “Take one of the jobs. Instead of being a ski instructor maybe think about being a bus driver this winter.”

Board members Taylor and LeeAnn Mick have expressed interest in helping the worker shortage in the district by serving as substitute teachers, and the school board voted to suspend its policy prohibiting board members from being employed by the district. Taylor already is a bus driver for the Gunnison schools.

“I would call them hero board members,” concluded board president Tyler Martineau.

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