The challenges of hiring teachers and support staff

The challenges of hiring teachers and support staff
Posted on 03/17/2023
OES fourth-grade teacher Michelle BridgewaterDuring the past few years, principals and directors have found it increasingly difficult to hire and keep highly qualified teachers and support staff in Mehlville School District. They’ve noticed that less people are applying for open positions, and once hired, some eventually leave for higher paying positions. 

The Mehlville Board of Education is asking voters to consider Proposition E to help recruit and retain employees. Keeping teachers in Mehlville School District long-term is important to build and maintain a positive school culture. It will also help the district avoid anticipated teacher shortages due to more competition for a smaller pool of certified educators. Prop E is on the ballot on April 4.

There is a shortage of new teachers joining the workforce and an increase in teacher retirements/resignations.
Mike Salsman has served as principal of Oakville Middle School for nearly two decades. Over the years, the number of people applying for open positions has drastically decreased.

“I had a math opening this year, and only four people applied,” said Salsman. “Five or seven years ago, we would have had 20 to 30 applicants. The pool has been much smaller over the past couple of years.” 

The district has also experienced an increase in the number of teacher resignations and retirements.

“We know that consistency is important for kids, whether it’s a teacher in the classroom, a bus driver on a bus or a custodian at school,” said Dr. Shannon Pike, executive director of human resources. “It’s difficult to provide that consistency when there is so much turnover.”

We’re experiencing a shortage of applicants for math and science teachers at the middle and high school levels, as well as for English language learner teachers at all grade levels. The shortage of candidates has begun to impact our principals hiring for reading specialists and elementary teacher positions, too.

One of the main factors in the reduction of candidates is a decrease in the number of students graduating with a degree in education during the past few decades. As teachers retire or resign, it has become increasingly difficult to replace them. 

“University graduates are few and far between, so there’s only so many of them to go around,” said Dr. Pike. “Our primary competition is with other districts for already existing certified teaching staff.” 

Local taxes account for more than 75 percent of the district’s budget. Mehlville School District has the lowest blended tax rate of all 22 school districts in St. Louis County. This makes it difficult to provide teachers with pay competitive to nearby districts.

In the 2022-2023 school year, Mehlville School District is paying its starting teachers $1,938 less than the average starting teacher salary in other county districts. At higher levels, Mehlville’s teacher salaries trail the county average by $7,585 and the top-paying district by $24,967. 

“The biggest challenge for our younger teachers who want to start families is the pay,” said Salsman. “I’ve lost teachers to Webster Groves, Ferguson-Florissant and Fox in the last few years. It’s hard to blame these teachers when they can go down the road and make $7,000 or $8,000 more for doing the same work.” 
Prop E: Competition for teachers
Our transportation, facilities and school food nutrition departments have worked shorthanded.
This has put a strain on our existing workforce.

The decrease in job candidates isn’t limited to certified teaching staff. Support staff positions like custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers are critical to keep the district running, but those departments are severely understaffed.

“We’re not seeing an applicant flow come in,” said Dan Gilman, director of Transportation. “When we do get applicants, they often don’t want to accept the position because another district or job pays better. They want to know what they can put in their pocket to help their family.” 

The district doesn’t just compete with other school districts for support staff positions. It’s also competing against private sector companies hiring for similar jobs. Many districts across St. Louis County, the state and the country are coping with support staff shortages and competing to keep those positions filled.

“It’s a very competitive market because every school district is looking for bus drivers and school bus monitors,” said Gilman. “And we’re one of the lower paying districts.” 
Prop E: Support staff work shortages
Gilman’s department has combined bus routes where it can to cope with staffing shortages. Field trips have also been limited this year due to a lack of drivers. There are enough drivers to cover daily routes, but if someone is out due to illness or family emergency, our dispatchers, the district’s mail delivery driver and even school secretaries with bus driving experience get behind the wheel to make sure all students make it to school.

Supporting students has also been a team effort for our facilities and school food departments. This has led to high turnover rates for these positions because staff are often working overtime to make sure students get to and from school each day, enjoy a delicious breakfast and lunch and have clean and safe classrooms and buildings.

“When you have a department operating at 80 percent filled, that other 20 percent of work has to come from somewhere to ensure students’ needs are met,” said Dr. Pike. “Eventually that wears on people. There is a cap on what people can handle, and we’re seeing that with the amount of turnover we’re experiencing.”
Prop E logo
How Prop E will help Mehlville School District to recruit and retrain staff
Prop E is on the ballot on April 4. If passed, it would provide all Mehlville School District teachers with competitive pay compared to other districts in St. Louis County. Prop E would also make wages for custodians, school food technicians, bus drivers, secretaries and other support staff positions more competitive with both other districts and private sector companies hiring for similar positions. Visit the Prop E section of our website to learn more.

More stories about Prop E:
- How keeping experienced teachers in Mehlville School District impacts school culture
- The impact of our incredible support staff
- Prop E video playlist
- Prop E: Ensuring high-quality teachers and support staff for Mehlville School District students

The Mehlville School District strictly prohibits discrimination and harassment against employees, students or others on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, or sex including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity and other characteristics protected by law. The following individuals have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: contact Adam Smith at 314-467-5006 or [email protected].