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  • Roger Sims, Journal Staff

Pleasanton district makes final hire two days before school opens

Updated: Aug 28, 2022

PLEASANTON – Pleasanton USD 344 officials became painfully aware of the effects of the national teacher shortage as the clock began ticking down to the start of school last week. Earlier in the month, the school’s website listed three teaching positions – a social studies teacher, an elementary teacher and a music teacher – still open.

However, last Monday, Aug. 22, just a couple days before the first day of school, the district was able to finally hire a music teacher to complete its certified staff for the 2022-23 school year.

For Superintendent Travis Laver, filling the music teacher position was particularly good news. Laver, a former music teacher, was concerned he might need to substitute for those classes until a suitable candidate was found.

“We’ve never had that much trouble getting people hired,” he said.

The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) in late July estimated that there were 1,400 teaching positions still open just a month before the start of school. Speculation on the cause of the shortage both in Kansas and nationwide include relatively low salaries combined with high demand for workers in other fields and high stress levels, particularly in the wake of the COVID epidemic.

Researchers at two universities, including K-State, found that three trends were unfolding simultaneously: college programs for teachers have seen declining enrollment; respect for teachers and interest in teaching has fallen sharply; and most districts expanded hiring beyond pre-pandemic numbers with federal relief aid.

Laver said that a recent meeting of superintendents at the Greenbush Education Service Center in Girard, school districts having trouble hiring teachers was a common complaint.

He said schools were getting decent applicants for vacant teaching posts, but they weren’t getting many applications. He also noted that there were only about 100 students enrolled in the teacher education program at Pittsburg State University.

Late resignations were also a factor for Pleasanton. When the music teacher submitted a resignation in July, most of the qualified candidates to teach music had already been under contract with other districts.

The Pleasanton school board earlier in August tabled revisions to a measure that might increase the penalty for teachers resigning after the May 20 mandated renewal deadline. School districts require that teachers planning on leaving the district reveal their intentions before that deadline, Laver said.

The district’s current policy allows the board some discretion in how it will react, he added. Some districts will assess a monetary penalty for a late resignation. Other districts may request that KSDE pull that teacher’s certification, he said.

The one thing that the Pleasanton district needs now are people who can get the students to school: bus drivers.

In the past, districts have been able to train bus drivers, but that is not the case anymore, he said. “We can’t train our own if the don’t already have a CDL.”

The bus driver problem is a constant for several districts, including Prairie View USD 362. Laver said that Greenbush is planning to establish a consortium to train drivers and get them licensed.

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