Staffing Shortages Cause Problems Throughout PPS

School buses lined up to take students to school. Due to PPS staffing shortages, there are fewer bus drivers available than usual, sometimes causing students to be late to school. 
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Recently, Portland Public Schools (PPS) has been facing heavy staffing shortages, with 178 positions open as of Nov. 30, according to the PPS website. These job openings range from school bus drivers to advanced math teachers and even positions for principals. These shortages have caused a great number of problems across the district, with buses showing up late to school, fewer substitute teachers, a lack of custodial staff, and more. Not only are teachers stretched thin from an overload of work, students are losing not only valuable time at school learning from being late, but proper education and support that teachers could better provide if they were less depleted.

“The shortages have created challenging circumstances within the building. Teachers are being asked to cover classes during their prep periods to ensure that classes have an instructor,” says Franklin Principal Chris Frazier. “When staff are asked to cover, their work is impeded, i.e, teachers can’t use their planning period for planning and/or grading.” Some of the areas most affected by the shortages have been teaching staff, especially special education teachers and substitutes. 

“There is almost nowhere in our district that has not been affected by staffing shortages,” says Gwen Sullivan, Vice President of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), and a PPS employee of almost 25 years. “There are definite[ly] areas that have been hit harder. Our special education department… has been hit hardest with the staffing shortages. It has a huge impact… because of how it affects their ability to meet the needs of the kids that they are supposed to be servicing.” 

With teacher working conditions getting worse as shortages continue to increase, it is very hard to find new people willing to enter the education field. “There has been a negativity, press wise, about teaching, and the difficulty of it. It is a beautiful profession, but you go to college and have these huge school loans, and then your pay is pretty low. It is pretty difficult,” says Sullivan. “We just don’t have enough people wanting to become teachers. Pay and working conditions [are not good], so a lot of teachers will say things like: ‘I don’t necessarily want more pay, I want class sizes that are reasonable so that I can actually meet my students’ needs.’”

In addition to teacher shortages, many other areas of the district are short-staffed. Nutritionists, custodial staff, bus drivers, and any other personnel on the education “team,” are hurting just as badly. Due to limited salary and the toughness of the job, it is hard to find people willing to take on the work. “We are in a pandemic. We need our schools clean and sanitized,” says Sullivan. [We] are so short [on] custodians, there is no way that they can take care of the buildings, even without the pandemic, so that is why we really strongly say, ‘pay them more.’”

“It breaks my heart seeing how many students and staff are impacted by this situation. I want to thank our teachers for their resiliency and stepping up to cover classes,” says Frazier. “…Everyone is doing their best to address this crisis and keep student learning and support at the center of the decision making.”

According to Sullivan, the district has also begun to offer signing bonuses in hopes to get more people interested in applying. “Our working conditions are a student’s learning conditions, so we really believe that when we are fighting for something, it is for the betterment of public education.” 

To apply for a job or to look at PPS career opportunities, go to careers.pps.net to view a complete list of job openings and applications. “The district currently has 200 applicants who are interviewing and [the district is] still recruiting,” reports Frazier. 

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