Front Page: Sounding the Alarm

By Theresa Kelly Gegen
 
It will come as no surprise to the public education community that there is a teacher shortage. It’s ongoing, and the Journal’s coverage of it continues with this issue.
 
But, as 2021 draws to a close, that’s not all. Every day seems to present a new “shortage” challenge to school districts. The only thing there isn’t a shortage of is new challenges for school board members and the communities they serve.
 
Beyond the educator shortage, other positions are going unfilled in Illinois school districts. Notable is the shortage of bus drivers, a situation that has impacted many districts in Illinois and nationwide. Many schools had challenges hiring enough bus drivers before the coronavirus pandemic. It’s worse now, because pandemic-related concerns “drove” many into retirement. Plus, typically fewer students are allowed on the bus due to distancing rules. Many routes have been canceled, and some students have been stranded for hours.
 
In SD 308 in Oswego, junior high and high school students were in remote learning due to bus driver shortages. In Decatur SD 61, some routes have not run at all, and parents who can are driving their kids to school, others resort to remote learning. Chicago Public Schools worked with ride-share companies and created carpools where none existed. Rural districts, with far fewer public options, stagger start times and juggle overflow during drop-off to get kids safely into the buildings.
 
School districts also face a shortage of substitute teachers, school nurses, support personnel, classroom aides, food service staff, and custodial employees. Not all the shortages are labor. School food service providers and cafeterias face supply-chain issues, as do facility operations and maintenance. Galesburg CUSD 205 high school students started the year in remote learning, not because of a COVID-19 outbreak but because of work and supply shortages that extended the construction time for the new high school. Effingham-area and Bloomington-area school districts (and others) report food service changes and a reduction in menu options due to supply issues.
 
Some of these shortages can be explained by the coronavirus pandemic. Some workers are reluctant to return to work, as the delta variant confounds efforts to mitigate it. Others face a different challenge: potential employees don’t want to work with mask, testing, or vaccine mandates. Substitutes are scarce anyway, and are in demand when people are advised to stay home due to symptoms, be they COVID or allergies.
 
These very real daily challenges continue, even as the long-term educator shortage is ongoing. As mentioned, the current and potential shortage of educators has become a mainstay of the public education discourse. In this issue, we present commentary from experts in the field, who have written on this topic for the Journal before. Many thanks to them for continuing to share thoughts on this important topic. The Journal also offers insight into trends in collective bargaining and changes in Illinois law relating to Erin’s Law for combating sexual abuse.
 
There is no shortage of challenges facing members of boards of education in Illinois. It’s hard, and it takes time. We understand that the work goes on, and hope you know that IASB supports you in it. Let us know if we can help.
 
Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal and can be reached at tgegen@iasb.com.