Nov 30, 2021 - News

Philly School District staff shortage compounds pandemic challenges

An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty
An unidentified student exits the bus on her way to school. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty

Philadelphia school staff members are spreading themselves thin as the district struggles to fill many vacant positions amid an ongoing worker shortage.

Driving the news: About 50 district administrative staff members will be temporarily teaching classes, monitoring cafeterias and answering phones in a handful of schools starting this week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

State of play: The School District of Philadelphia began offering daily bonuses for substitute teachers, assistants, food service workers, librarians, secretaries and nurses last month to attract more workers.

  • There are over 250 teacher vacancies and nearly 1,900 open positions in total, according to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union.
  • District spokesperson Marissa Orbanek told Axios schools have seen an increase in substitutes filling in jobs in November compared to October, but she didn't provide a number.

Of note: Earlier this year, the district doubled its incentive for families to opt out of transportation services from $150 per month to $300 per month amid a bus driver shortage.

  • As of Oct. 20, more than 8,160 families chose to participate in the program this school year.

The big picture: The pandemic prompted a nationwide teacher shortage.

  • Nationally, there were 575,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What they're saying: Hillary Linardopoulos, a spokesperson for the teachers union, told Axios that educators "are more exhausted than ever" due to a mix of re-acclimating students to the classroom, dealing with the pandemic and working through the city's surge of gun violence.

  • This is all on top of extra work because of chronic staffing issues.

The bottom line: Our education system is in a fragile place. Elementary school students ended last school year four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement, according to a McKinsey report published in July.

  • And experts say that fixing the teacher shortage, which could in turn reduce school disruptions, comes down to funding, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.
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