Staffing drought leaves San Marcos schools understaffed

Long+Lines+of+students+gather+and+wait+to+get+their+lunches.

Photo by Taylin Jimenez

The lack of CNS workers result in long lines for students waiting to get their lunches.

Story by Lori Nishiguchi, Staff Writer

   Science teachers teaching math. Assistant principals subbing in dance class. Long lines for lunch, and tardy passes are hard to come by. Sound familiar? 

   San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) and other school districts across the nation are facing staff shortages, ultimately affecting how schools function. At Mission Hills, the student to teacher ratio is 28:1 and the national ratio is 17:1; in reality most classes hover between 35-40 students. The student population increase and the concurrent decrease in staff results in inconveniences that are apparent to students, like longer wait times in the lunch line or difficulty getting a late pass from campus supervisors.

   At Mission Hills, the campus supervisors are responsible for maintaining student safety and monitoring behaviors outside the classroom. 

   “I feel that the district realizes that [supervising is an] important position and we need as many people as we can to watch [students] and make sure you’re all safe and able to go to class in peace and learn,” said Robert Hanlon, lead campus supervisor.

   Factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and high job demand are causing a shortage of staff. An economic flux has happened as a result of the pandemic, and job-seekers may be hesitant to comply with the COVID-19 related mandates and policies that come with working in a school. 

   When asked to comment, SMUSD representative Dr. Gary DeBora responded, “The District has seen a dramatic drop-off in people applying for all openings.  The quality of the applicants has also declined, which can compound the need. As we talk with substitutes who are declining to work, the reasons why they are choosing not to work center around the need to feel safe as the main factor.”

   This deficit is also impacting students’ mental health. “[Mission Hills definitely needs more] counselors. [Students may be having] problems, people are different and struggle a lot with different topics and stuff, and sometimes you need a little place to vent… just [make] this school a safe spot for anyone,” said a senior who goes by the name Lucifer Gomez.

   Many school districts are looking to use federal money to create more jobs that would benefit students such as nurses and counselors, creating more demand for jobs that are already not being filled.

   Current practice at Mission Hills when there is no substitute for a class is to request that other teachers cover those classes. Teachers are trading their prep period for additional pay to cover those sections. They aren’t always filled, leaving rooms with campus supervisors or administrators to monitor. 

   Another factor in the substitute shortage is that most candidates are of retirement age, and worry about their safety in schools.

   “[Teachers like myself may] need a mental health day to relax but it’s more stressful to even think about that if nobody covers your class,” said Dayna Drewniak, biology and oceanography teacher.

   SMUSD is currently looking to hire more campus supervisors, instructional aids, custodians, nutrition service workers and substitute teachers. Salaries for these jobs vary from $13.58 per hour for custodians to $165 a day for substitute teachers.

   Trash cleanup and custodial duties have also been affected by the lack of staff. The positions that school districts are looking to fill may not be the most appealing to those looking for jobs, especially for the long-term. This leaves campuses littered with few people to clean up after the students.

   “One of the problems that high schools face is when one of our custodians is sick or calls out, we don’t always have substitutes because we have a team of say five or six people, and at elementary schools they only have like one so they get priorities on substitutes…we don’t always get substitutes,” said former assistant principal Todd Marquet.

  A simple way students can directly reduce the burden on the small number of custodians is to clean up after oneself. Getting trash into the trash can allows custodians to properly maintain facilities and classrooms. Picking up trash keeps the campus cleaner and respects the overworked custodians.

   Mission Hills is close to being fully staffed. A new custodian was recently hired, and the school has been on the lookout for a new lacrosse coach and English teacher. As of last week, the school is also looking to fill the positions of two assistant principals who will be pursuing new endeavors. 

   For more information on positions available, you can visit edjoin.com.