WHITE COUNTY, Ark. – It’s a problem school districts deal with every year, there are not enough substitute teachers and not enough bus drivers. Now this problem is only heightened because of the pandemic. Two White County school districts are working to recruit these sought-after employees.
Sitting eight miles North of Searcy, White County Central School District already competes with several larger districts when it comes to finding substitute teachers. Now, combine that with a pandemic.
“This year has been really, really a struggle getting subs here,” White County Central Superintendent Dean Stanley said.
He said they’ve lost a core group of certified teachers willing to step in.
“They just felt they weren’t very comfortable being back in a public setting,” Stanley said.
According to Stanley, the district typically has four to six substitute openings a day, but just in the first nine weeks of school they’ve had multiple days those slots go unfilled.
“We’ve had to cover with some of our paraprofessionals or sometimes we’ve had to double up a class just because of lack of substitutes available,” Stanley said.
To help, the school board recently approved more funding to get more people to the front of the classroom.
“We really want to attract the best possible substitutes we can for our students,” Stanley said.
Raising the wage from $75 to $100 per day, the district hopes they will put more certified teachers into the substitute rotation.
“We don’t want our kids to lose the daily learning and if we get a certified person in there then they can continue where the teacher was previously,” Stanley said.
Another rural district having trouble finding someone to fill in is Pangburn School District. They, however, are looking for subs to sit in the driver’s seat.
“A lot of people just don’t want the responsibility of it,” Pangburn School District Transportation Director David McKee said.
McKee said they only have two substitute bus drivers on the roster and one of those is Superintendent David Rolland. The other is a teacher with the district. Rolland said he and another teacher help out whenever needed but McKee had an idea for the district to help with the extensive process of becoming a certified bus driver.
“They have to pay $50 to get a test packet. At that point they have to go pass the written. Then the state requires 24-hours of training. Then they have to get their driving test which we do in Newport. That was all on the driver themselves,” McKee said.
Now, once the drivers complete their training and get behind the wheel the district will help cover those upfront costs. They are hoping that will not only recruit more subs but also those to take over the routes in the near future.
“A lot of our drivers are getting towards the end of their careers so we really need to start looking at replacements for them,” Rolland said.
Rolland said the district is also looking at raising their bus driver pay scale. They want to be competitive with the larger districts in the area.