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'Worst I've ever seen it': Arkansas school districts experience staff shortage

Two months into the school year, districts across the state are experiencing staff shortages.

PULASKI COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — From truck drivers to restaurant employees to healthcare workers, we've talked a lot about how the pandemic has led to open positions in a lot of different professions.

Now, two months into the school year, districts across the state are also dealing with this issue.

Students' desks are all filled up at Pulaski County Special School District after a year where many learned virtually. 

It's a drastic difference from last year when several seats were empty, but now Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Shawn Burgess said the problem is finding the staff to support those students.

"I've been in human resources for over 15 years and this has probably been the worst I've ever seen it," she said.

This shortage is now impacting every single job that helps keep a school running from teachers to substitutes to custodians, according to Burgess.

"It's across the board, even clerical [positions] like bookkeepers, attendance clerks, registrar," she said.

Burgess said they're still trying to fill about five teacher positions. 

The biggest gap, right now, is in special education. 

As for the "why" behind all this, Burgess wishes she had the answer. 

"I think it's that people know that they have more options now and they want the flexibility, as it relates to their families and things that they can do from home," she said.

The district recently approved a teacher salary raise, which Burgess believes could help fill these open spots. 

"We're hoping that that will attract people to come back into the profession to come to PCSSD," she said.

This isn't just happening in the metro though, Searcy School District is experiencing the same thing, according to Superintendent Bobby Hart. 

"We're having to look for alternative methods of getting certified staff," he said.

Hart said they have three teachers who are working on additional training for special education.

He said the pool of applicants, for all teaching positions, keeps getting smaller and they're looking at offering incentives that might attract potential candidates.

"For secondary level, it's really bad. You know, where you might have had 15 or 20 applicants in the past, you're fortunate to have five," Hart said.

While the need is great throughout the halls and inside classrooms, he said every position filled plays a critical role in each students' life.

"When our graduating class walks across the stage, everybody that gets a check from Searcy Schools has had an impact on that student, at some level," Hart said.

Some schools are also so short-staffed that employees need to pull double shifts, like custodians. 

For anyone interested in applying for open positions at Searcy School District, you can do that here

If you are interested in applying to Pulaski County Special School District, you can do that here.