Twin Cities school districts rush to fill hundreds of openings before school starts

[anvplayer video=”5129513″ station=”998122″]

Communities across the country are working to fill positions with the start of the school year approaching. In North Dakota, the Education Standards and Practices Board declared a critical shortage for all content areas for the upcoming year.

There’s a shortage of teachers in several subjects and grade levels in Iowa and Wisconsin as well, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The federal Teacher Shortage Area data for Minnesota shows too few teachers and staff across every grade level in nearly 50 different categories.

“As many of you know, we are attempting to staff in an incredibly tough environment,” said Candra Bennett, the senior human resources officer for Minneapolis Public Schools. “Right now, both from a statewide perspective but also nationally we’re seeing some of the lowest numbers of licensed school professionals we’ve seen in the last number of years.”

RELATED: Hudson School District looking to fill dozens of support staff positions

Bennett told the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education on Tuesday that the district is working to fill about 280 openings.

“We are working to make offers within 48 hours, and we’ll continue to do both active and passive recruitment,” Bennett said.

The first day of school for most districts in Minnesota is Sept. 6.

“There’s a teacher shortage, we’re definitely feeling it more this year,” said Danaya Franke, the assistant director of recruitment and retention for St. Paul Public Schools. “We’re looking to hire primarily teachers but also [teaching assistants, educational assistants], clerical staff, a variety of educators also, which includes social workers, psychologists.”

The district currently has 333 openings, which include 122 teaching positions and 106 teaching assistant positions.

SPPS formed a new team over the past six months to attract candidates. There are two recruitment specialists and a retention specialist working to address the staffing need.

“It’s a proactive approach. Rather than wait for people to come to us, we’re going out to people,” Franke said. “We’re doing this because we’ve learned along the way we can recruit folks to come into the district, but unless we put things in place that make people feel welcome and a sense of belonging and put systems in place where people feel like they belong, we’re not going to be able to retain the folks that we’ve recruited.”

The team attended a Ramsey County job fair on Wednesday. More than 50 people signed up for a follow-up call about potential openings.

“We’re very thankful for the work they’re doing. It’s definitely a necessity,” Franke said.

There were dozens of booths highlighting opportunities across many industries at the job fair. Chen Vue, who lives in south Minneapolis, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he’s considering all of his options.

“I like to learn and grow as an individual, so that’s why I’m out here, just be able to learn,” said Vue.

Chen Vue, right, speaks with a St. Paul Public Schools recruitment team during a Ramsey County job fair Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, outside Allianz Field in St. Paul. (KSTP)

He has a master’s degree in education and previously worked for another school district in the Twin Cities metro area.

Vue experienced the staffing challenges first-hand before he left his job at the beginning of the year. He said the decision was based on a variety of factors.

“Definitely been a challenge for educators, anyone going into the education field because everybody is worried about COVID and about their health and their family,” Vue said. “It’s hard to protect them as you’re still trying to provide a service to your students, a challenge for sure.”

He is about to finish school to become an electrician but shared his resume with the recruiters from SPPS. Vue is open to returning to the classroom.

“I walked away feeling good, and I definitely got a lot of information from them, definitely connected with a lot of good people in the field,” he said.

The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) publishes a teacher supply and demand report every two years. According to the most recent report from 2021, about 51% of those with a professional license were not active classroom teachers.

“Although there is now a shortage coming in, the main reason we have a shortage today is we have a willingness shortage,” said Marc Doepner-Hove, the social studies department chair and union president in the Mound-Westonka School District. “We have thousands of teachers in the state of Minnesota who have licenses that could teach, and they’ve chosen either to never enter the profession, or they’ve left it.”

The PELSB report also found nearly a third of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.

“There is a feeling among some of us that when we leave this profession, is there going to be anybody to leave it to?” he said.

Doepner-Hove attributes the current crisis to several factors, including the salaries compared to the cost of college.

“You mix into that the electronic nature of our work — we’re always on 24 hours a day, it seems, seven days a week — and you also have mixed with that COVID,” he said. “And we have found ourselves in the center of a culture war, and we’re kind of nervous looking at either side.”

Doepner-Hove added, “If I’m going to go to school and get this degree in education, what is it going to give me? Is it going to give me more stress? If it’s going to put me in the middle of a culture war, if it’s going to give me minimal to no pay increase but I’m paying three times more [for college], I mean how long can we realistically ask people to do this?”

Franke agrees that the pandemic added to teacher stress.

“COVID was hard on teachers,” she said. “I think the pandemic caused a lot of folks to rethink what they wanted to do and so people are looking and seeing what other kind of careers fit their needs right now and so we are seeing resignations.”

Still, she was encouraged by the turnout they saw at the job fair this week.

“We’re looking at the recruitment angle of how do we recruit folks and how do we get the word out teaching is a wonderful place to be it’s a wonderful profession, it changes the world,” said Franke. “You don’t have to be a teacher to work for St. Paul Public Schools. There’s a lot of different opportunities people can partake in if they and to be part of their community and make a change.”

SPPS is hosting a job fair on Friday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the American Indian OIC. There will also be a virtual hiring fair from 2-5 p.m.