School district still in need of food service workers, bus drivers, subs

Has hired marketing specialist to spread the word

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

The Gunnison Watershed School District is still on the hunt for more staff to help feed, teach and transport its student population. And with the rise of COVID cases in the community over the last few weeks, the district is feeling the strains of Omicron on top of an already thin workforce. Superintendent Dr. Leslie Nichols provided an update on the state of the district’s workforce to the school board on January 10, and brought some good news regarding one new hire: a marketing specialist. 

On Monday, January 10, approximately 38 staff members were out due to COVID or caretaking for sick family members. Three of Crested Butte’s four bus routes are still in need of bus drivers and the Crested Butte Community School still does not have any full-time staff to operate a hot lunch program. Administrators with teaching experience are stepping in, and school board members Dave Taylor and LeeAnn Mick are still pitching in as well with bus driving and substitute teaching, respectively. 

However, the school district has hired a marketing specialist, Erica Rasmussen, who is also the executive director of the Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation.

“She brings an incredible history of marketing expertise,” shared Nichols. Rasmussen’s focus will be to strengthen the district’s digital marketing presence through social media messaging and other channels and local organizations that can help spread the word about the district’s staffing needs. 

“The ultimate goal for this very specific marketing effort is to recruit bus drivers, substitute teachers and food service workers,” said Nichols. “Equally as important is really establishing our presence better across the valley to tell our story about the school district.” 

Food service update

GWSD’s nutrition director Kristen Osborn updated the school board on the state of the district’s food service. 

The district operates under the USDA School Nutrition Program, “which ensures we’re serving quality nutritional meals to kids, and we get reimbursed,” she said. 

However, the Crested Butte Community School does not have enough staff to operate the reimbursable USDA food service program at this time. “Under the requirements, there are all these rules and regulations, so you need to have the proper staff,” explained Osborn. 

Currently, CBCS is offering limited breakfast and lunch options in order to meet the staff shortage and COVID-friendly serving methods. In order to be fully staffed, CBCS needs a kitchen manager and five full-time staff. Currently, there are two part-time staffers. Gunnison Community School is down one full-time staffer and Gunnison High School is operating with a full staff and is the only school able to offer hot lunch scratch cooking.  

Osborn said that other challenges have included COVID-friendly serving methods creating more waste, food supply chain disruptions and an overall higher student participation. Higher participation, she noted, is a good problem to have. This year, the average daily participation in the lunch program at CBCS is 226 students, compared to 206 in 2019. Breakfast participation is up to 208 this year from 79 in 2019.

“I’m so proud of our nutrition staff for being so resilient and flexible and creative throughout the pandemic,” she said. “We are not doing our usual type of cooking and serving. I can’t thank our kitchen staff enough for showing up and being so great for our kids and our community. Thank you also to everyone who has stepped in and volunteered along the way…we’re doing the best we can.” 

Marcus Qualls spoke during public comment via Zoom, sporting the Save Our Schools (SOS) blue shirt with the slogan “Make lunches not lawsuits.” SOS was created to show support for GWSD in response to the lawsuit against the district’s mask mandate. 

“The real problem is money and that’s shameful when it comes to children that aren’t being fed a hot lunch or are hungry,” he said. “There are kids that are not getting what they need to receive at the other end of the valley…As a district you have to prioritize food for children above pretty much everything else. I still haven’t heard much in a way of solutions for that, and you’re going to have to come up with a money solution.” 

“I think at some point in time we’ve got to realize that we aren’t going to have any food service or very little,” said board treasurer Dave Taylor. “We have got to find a way to feed people with little or no employees. I don’t think our ability to hire food service employees is going to get any better any time soon,” he said, noting the difficulty in competing with area restaurants for employees. “We need some technological innovation to get our kids fed real quick with very minimal employees… That does not say we don’t keep trying.” 

“I want to recognize all of our teachers, all of our staff, all of our bus drivers, all of our custodians, all of our cafeteria workers, all of the administrators, everybody – for their work over this Omicron period,” said board member LeeAnn Mick. 

To apply for one of GWSD’s open positions, visit https://gunnisonschools.net.

Check Also

CB PO to seek community feedback on new location

Looking for 11,000 square feet [  By Mark Reaman  ] The town of Crested Butte …