The impact of our incredible support staff

The impact of our incredible support staff
Posted on 02/27/2023
Point cafeteria manager Linda BeattieMehlville School District has hundreds of support staff employees. These employees include custodians, bus drivers, food technicians and secretaries. These incredible men and women are vital in keeping the district running.

“We have an incredible food services department here at Hagemann Elementary,” said Dr. Julie Durham, principal of Hagemann Elementary School. “They are always looking to provide nutritious meals for our students, and they know every student by name.”
Point cafeteria manager Linda Beattie
Image: Point Elementary School cafeteria manager Linda Beattie runs the register at lunch.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, school food staff stepped up their already important role of ensuring every student has the opportunity to eat a delicious breakfast and lunch each day. With students and staff learning safely from home, school food employees still came to school every day to prepare free meals that were distributed to students and our community at grab-and-go stations. 
MHS SFNS tech Pat Holloran
Image: Mehlville High School food technician passes grab-and-go meals to a family in November 2020.
Our employment numbers for school food technicians are below ideal levels. It’s not uncommon to see faces not typically associated with working in the kitchen, like the superintendent or the directors of facilities and transportation, washing dishes or slicing oranges when members of our school food staff are not available. 

Our custodians played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so in our day-to-day operations. When students and teachers first returned to our campuses, custodians increased the amount of sanitizing and cleaning they did to make sure everyone was safe and healthy.
Wohlwend custodian Ken John
Image: Wohlwend Elementary School custodian Ken John smiles at passing students as he sweeps the stairwell. 

In addition to keeping our schools clean and looking great, custodians play a vital role in school safety. They make sure that schools are secure.

“Ms. Donna is that center person who holds everything together,” said Michelle Bridgewater, Oakville Elementary School fifth-grade teacher, about custodian Donna Davis. “The minute we need support, she’s there. If there’s something extra that needs to be done, she’s there.”

Our facilities staff has been hit hard by significant staffing shortages during the past few school years. 

“We have secretaries, electricians and other support staff who aren’t custodians supporting their efforts by working overtime in schools,” said Dr. Chad Dickemper, executive director of planning and operations.

The group hardest hit by staffing shortages is our transportation team, which has operated around 20 percent below ideal levels all year. There isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to staff calling out sick, so it’s been a team effort to keep buses rolling each day.
Bus driver Sharron Gatling
Image: Bus driver Sharron Gatling smiles at students as they arrive at school for the day.

“There have been times when we’ve been close to canceling routes,” said Dr. Dickemper. “To keep that from happening, anyone who is employed by the district with a CDL drives a bus. That is disruptive to other services, such as the district’s mail delivery, transportation dispatchers or mechanics in the bus shop.

Bus drivers are the first face students see in the morning, and school secretaries are often the first face students see when they arrive at school. Our secretaries have a wealth of knowledge about their schools and the district and work to support everyone in their school communities.

“Teachers are going non-stop all day, so we have to call on them for help and support,” said Bridgewater. “They give us all the answers, and if they don’t know the answer, they will find it for us immediately.”

Mehlville School District is a large district that needs to be fully staffed for operations to continue to run smoothly.

“There is a city of effort beyond what students and parents see taking place between school bells,” said Dr. Dickemper. “Cooking, transportation and cleaning our buildings is a necessary human infrastructure that Mehlville School District could not operate without.”

Competition for support staff
We face competition from other school districts when hiring both certified teaching staff and support staff. For support staff, we also face competition from private sector companies hiring for similar positions.

That competition has forced our facilities, school food nutrition and transportation departments to operate with unfilled openings throughout this school year. As of February 27:
- The facilities department has 16 custodian vacancies.
- The transportation department has 14 bus driver vacancies.

The passage of Prop E would allow Mehlville School District to provide wages for support staff that are competitive with other districts in St. Louis County, as well as with businesses in our area. Prop E would also provide more competitive wages for certified teaching staff. Visit the Prop E section of our website to learn more.

Prop E

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].