It is no secret that our metro area, like many across the state and nation, is suffering from a workforce shortage. Whether you plan a night out at your favorite restaurant only to find the dining room closed, or you can’t find items you need at a retail store because they’re out of stock, the lack of workers is having an impact on the goods and services we are accustomed to accessing whenever we want.
Currently, our Chamber of Commerce reports 6,003 job openings in Cass County, which is a 44% increase in openings from this same time last year. With that many openings, it is safe to assume that there is no industry that hasn’t been affected, including education. West Fargo Public Schools alone accounts for approximately 1% of those openings. While the district has experienced shortages in multiple areas in the past, none have been to the extent that we have seen the past 18 months. In addition to the positions that remain unfilled, the district experiences an average daily absentee rate of 12%. This equates to nearly 300 positions each day that are not filled on a consistent basis.
Before the workforce shortage became so dire, we were able to fill many of our open positions with substitute teachers…but even subs are hard to find these days. We have been creative in partnering with area colleges and universities to bring in education students one day per week, which has been a wonderful opportunity for them to gain classroom experience while supporting our operations. We also have other teachers in the school stepping up to cover during their prep times, and in many cases, district office leaders or instructional coaches are filling in. This means that in classrooms across the district, the continuity of learning is disrupted, which is certainly not best for students, and we still find ourselves unable to fill approximately 25% of the openings we have each day.
Our bus driver shortage is also creating a great strain on the system. Although free transportation to and from school is not a right or a guarantee, it is a service many families depend upon. The shortage has forced us to reduce the number of routes, which increases the number of students on a bus. This practice can lead to longer trips for some students and behavior problems on the bus. We are also stacking routes, meaning some students will be brought home while others wait at the school for the bus to run a second route. In a few cases, we have been forced to cancel an out-of-town extracurricular activity because we did not have a driver available. We have also ceased transporting students to in-town activities until further notice.
The lunchrooms aren’t exempt either. In addition to being short-staffed, we are not able to access some of the food and equipment we have been able to in the past due to national shortages. This combination has led to unanticipated and last-minute menu changes for students at breakfast and lunch.
If you’ve gotten this far, you may be wondering why I’ve spent so much column space sharing our struggles. Here’s why: I believe that many people in our community aren’t aware of the many opportunities available for them to help in our district. Are you a retired member of our community who is looking to give back in a meaningful way? Does your employer ask you to volunteer in the community? Have you been at home caring for young children who are now in school? West Fargo Public Schools has many volunteer opportunities and paid positions that may be of interest to you.
- Recess monitor (supervise the playground during recess)
- Before or after school monitor (welcome students as they enter or leave the building or assist students as they get on or off the bus)
- Lunchroom monitor (help students get their lunch and supervise the lunchroom)
- Transportation monitor (ride along on a bus and help supervise)
- 14 current openings: Food service worker (help serve breakfast or lunch and assist with clean up)
- Seven current openings: Custodial services (cleaning in the evenings)
- Substitute paraprofessional (assist classrooms or individual students)
- Five current openings: Drive bus (need a CDL license– district will pay for certification)
- Drive a van or minibus (DOT physical needed)
- 21 current openings; Special education paraprofessional
- 11 current openings: Behavior technicians
If working in any of these positions (as a substitute, volunteer, part-time, or fulltime worker) is of interest to you, it’s easy to get involved; contact our friendly Human Resources department at 701-356-2001. They will help you navigate the process which includes a background check and paperwork, as well as determine a best fit to meet your skillset, interests, and schedule.
Whether you choose to fill in for our current employees, or commit to a position, we can use your help.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to our current employees and volunteers who have committed to educating today’s students (including the 639 students brand new to WFPS just this year) for tomorrow’s world. If you know a WFPS employee or volunteer, please join me in thanking them for what they do…and consider joining us for this very important work.