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Some school districts say hiring is easier this summer, but they’re still getting creative

Buses are parked at the Rockwood School District's transportation headquarters on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Wildwood. Like many districts in the region, Rockwood is also experiencing a bus driver shortage.
Brent Jones
St. Louis Public Radio
Buses are parked at the Rockwood School District's transportation headquarters in August 2022 in Wildwood. Like many districts in the region, Rockwood is experiencing a bus driver shortage.

School districts in the St. Louis region are implementing unique benefits and programs to try to attract teachers and other staff.

Some district hiring managers say it has been easier to find new employees this summer compared to recent years, but schools are still making changes to fill especially challenging openings.

The Hazelwood School District saw fewer retirements and resignations this school year, said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Keith Bausman.

“There was a level of fatigue that set in from those individuals that have been dealing with a lot with COVID,” Bausman said. “So I think that that's why we saw a little bit more last year than we're seeing this year.”

Still, the district is implementing new programs to try to attract employees for hard-to-fill positions. Starting this upcoming school year, Southeast Middle School will have a four-day week for staff. Students will still go to school all five days, but Mondays will include activities focused on career development. Staff will work some Mondays and will be paid extra to do so.

“That site had been hard to fill in the past, but they are on pace to be very close to being fully staffed,” Bausman said.

The four-day week has been an increasingly popular strategy to attract teachers to work, especially in rural districts. One in four Missouri districts have now adopted the schedule, but Hazelwood will be among the first in the St. Louis region implementing the change.

Hazelwood is also offering discounted pre-kindergarten for staff members’ children and giving employees full credit for experience at other districts when deciding where new hires will start on its salary schedule, in an effort to attract educators from other districts.

The Wentzville School District is also trying to attract experienced teachers from other districts. The district is also matching teaching experience for salary purposes for Wentzville residents and offering bonuses and retention incentives for Wentzville School District graduates.

Superintendent Danielle Tormala said the district is in a good place, but it still faces challenges when positions are open during the school year.

“It's all hands on deck all the time, so wherever there is a vacancy, we look to be able to fill with whoever has the ability to do that at that moment,” said Danielle Tormala, Wentzville’s superintendent.

Statewide, special education positions are among the most difficult to fill. Despite that trend, the Special School District said it is seeing reasons to be optimistic.

“We're looking at a really a very positive trend that we're experiencing in terms of our retention right now,” said Phillip Boyd, chief people and culture officer. “Our retention across the board is about several points higher than it's been in almost a decade.”

The Special School District has been especially focused on hiring and keeping paraprofessionals. The district recently increased pay for paras and also extended tuition reimbursements for them and other workers.

Across the board, districts say there is another position they are especially in need of: bus drivers. An ongoing nationwide shortage is still prompting local school districts to look for ways to consolidate routes and attract new drivers.

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.