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Impacts of Anchorage School District labor shortage hit the classroom and more

The Anchorage School District says it's looking for more employees to help keep classrooms open.
The Anchorage School District says it's looking for more employees to help keep classrooms open.(ktuu)
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 7:49 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A labor shortage is having a major impact on the Anchorage School District. Administrators said Wednesday the district is still short approximately 100 special education employees, as well as cafeteria managers and assistant managers, and bus drivers.

Communications Specialist Lisa Miller confirmed there are about 100 full-time teaching positions vacant in the district. She said in an email that this includes positions like classroom teachers, music teachers, art teachers and librarians.

Secondary Education Director Dan Barker said there is also a lack of substitutes, so other staff are being asked to fill in when classroom teachers are sick.

“On any given day I can have an elementary school that normally has 16 classroom teachers and a whole host of support folks and other professionals who find out they have seven classroom teachers who are out,” Barker said.

“In that scenario I might very well have a librarian who’s teaching a first-grade class and a music teacher who’s stepping in to teach 6th grade for a part of the day,” he continued. “Those folks are certified teachers, they are capable of doing that, they are meeting all the requirements, but no one, including them, would tell you that’s the same experience as the 5th grade teacher that the student has been working with all year.”

Students are being impacted in other ways. Seven schools in the district aren’t providing hot lunches for their students because they don’t have the cafeteria workers required, according to ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth.

“We still feed kids,” Roth said. “But it’s a shelf-stable meal that our teaching staff are helping distribute. We can’t serve what is a heated prepared meal to students, so that’s the big impact.”

Roth said that situation has improved since the start of the year, when 16 schools were without the manpower to serve hot meals.

When it comes to school bus drivers, Roth said he can’t remember a previous time when the district had to cancel some routes temporarily because of a lack of drivers. The rotating cancellations began on Aug. 30 and are expected to last at least through September.

The district is offering bonuses as an incentive for certain positions and is encouraging people to go to its website to see the job listings available.

“We are actively looking for as many folks as we can who are capable to help out the schools,” Barker said. “Because on some level this is going to take a community effort to continue to maintain our operation as long as the virus is in this condition.”

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