Assignment: Education – School staff shortage

An extra set of helping hands are sometimes needed in the classroom, in the cafeteria and when kids head out to recess.

“We’re always looking to fill different positions throughout the school including, paraprofessionals, tutors, custodial – things of that nature,” said Onalaska Middle School Principal Jed Kees.

But for the past two years, there’s been a shortage of applicants.

“Most of my principals have been in the public sector for a long time and have seen the applicant pool dwindle,” said School District of Onalaska Director of Human Resources Sonya Ganther. “And we sometimes joke that it’s a puddle instead of a pool.”

Ganther was hired two years ago. One of her duties is to help the district recruit staff to work in its schools.

“That is one big piece of my position being created,” said Ganther. “So what I’ve done over the last two years is created a different online presence. We’ve done more recruiting. We’ve also done job fairs. We’ve worked with workforce development in recruiting some new paraprofessionals from that aspect.”

Just this month, Onalaska Middle School hired three new paraprofessionals. The part-time teacher’s aide positions had been open since the end of December. They are now fully staffed with four paraprofessionals. The school’s principal says the part-time hours could be a reason they’re having a hard time filling the positions.

“They tend to not come with benefits of any kind because they are only part time,” said Kees. “So it’s difficult to find people that can fill those and want to.”

However, that wasn’t the case until recently. And the principal says every job in a school district is important.

“There’s a big part of the day where kids are involved with their teachers and everything, but there’s almost an equal part of the day in which those other employees are making this a place that kids can learn at high levels,” said Kees.

The human resource director in Onalaska says she meets with several area school districts every other month to discuss how to recruit potential applicants to fill shortages.