Here are some steps California lawmakers can take to give school districts a better chance to fill vacancies.
By Nick Melvoin, Special at CalMatters
Nick Melvoin is vice president of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Twelve years ago, budget cuts forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to lay off thousands of employees, including myself. My students at Watts were only in one of many classrooms, disproportionately in our most disadvantaged school communities, without a permanent teacher.
Fast forward to this year, and the district faces a similar staff shortage – with one major difference – money.
If only shrinking budgets were to blame, then logic should follow that an unprecedented infusion of educational aid funds would provide every school community with so many teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff. that students need this year. Yet now as an elected member of the school board, our efforts to get more caring adults into schools during this time of recovery are supported by billions of dollars in funding, but still hampered by the labor shortage. ensuing work.
Three months after the start of this school year, an impressive 10,897 vacant positions in the school district remain vacant – nearly 16% of our budgeted enrollment. It means a revolving door of substitute teachers. School communities budget for multiple mental health support positions and in some cases cannot even hire one. We had to put our most promising literacy intervention program on hold to date due to understaffing.
The district has doubled its recruiting efforts. We have increased hiring incentives and allowances, especially for positions in our most disadvantaged schools, and streamlined human resources processes to integrate applicants into schools as quickly as possible. But that’s not enough.
At first glance, our hiring crisis may seem familiar to the labor shortage facing the rest of the country. And in some ways it is. All employers need to think differently about hiring in a world where people think differently about their role as workers.
But school districts don’t have the same flexibility as the private sector. While the state has approved some waivers to streamline the process during the pandemic, there are a few simple steps lawmakers can take to give school districts like the Unified School District of Los Angeles a better chance to fill vacancies, in both now and in the long run.
We need to remove the barriers for future educators. Currently, the process of certifying a new teacher can take up to five years and cost thousands of dollars – and that’s just to get your foot in the door. It should be easier for the next generation of educators to obtain the training and licenses necessary to bring them into our classrooms. And while there are understandable qualifications that our school staff must meet, we need more flexibility to allow future teachers and teaching assistants a temporary break from unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.
We can also do more to address the gaps in fortification programs. For every school without a full-time arts or music teacher, there is a professional artist, musician, singer, actor, and more, ready to lend their expertise to students at their local public school – especially in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world. A recent California law restricted the ability of some public schools to hire industry experts to teach electives. Instead of further limiting this type of innovative solution, the state should consider extending the exemptions so that every public school has the same opportunity for enrichment programs.
And while the Los Angeles Unified School District continues its efforts to build affordable housing for our employees, the cost of living remains a barrier for many California residents working in education. To make the crisis worse, more than 600 of our educators teach in our virtual program. Given the lower cost of living and competitive salaries, we should be able to recruit from out of town – even out of state – for these remote positions, so that we can fire our local teachers. in classrooms.
The good news is that the past year and a half has given us a glimpse of what governments can accomplish in times of crisis. The Unified School District of Los Angeles was able to provide more than 100 million meals for children and families, connect every student to a digital device and wireless hotspot, and partner with public health agencies to expand testing and access to vaccines. Now, it’s time to apply the same innovative attitude to the workforce shortage crisis – to provide current students with what they need for the future, and to build school districts to meet the needs of today’s students. future needs of students.