Heading into the 2022-2023 school year, East Lansing Public Schools managed to avoid the teacher shortages that have plagued schools nationwide.
“We do not have the shortages a lot of our neighboring districts are experiencing right now,” Rulesha Glover-Payne, director of human resources for the district, said.
Earlier this year, the Michigan Education Association released a survey to school employees including teachers, support staff, social workers, counselors, therapists, and higher education staff and faculty. The top concern among the nearly 2,600 surveyed was a lack of educators, with 91% extremely or very concerned about the educator shortage.
The problem doesn’t have a fix in sight. About one-fifth of teachers said they plan to leave education for another career within the next two or three years. Around the state, the educator shortage has resulted in a lack of prep time for teachers, support staff and administrators because they’ve been needed to fill in as substitute teachers and drivers for canceled or reduced bus routes.
However, East Lansing is in a good place with its teacher staffing with just one position available for a special education teacher. It has been especially difficult for all districts to find teachers certified to teach special education, Glover-Payne said.
Glover-Payne said East Lansing schools have been relatively successful in keeping teachers staffed because the district puts a focus on retaining staff. She said the school district prides itself on paying a fair wage and being a place teachers want to work.
“That is one of the things that I think is kind of a badge of honor for us,” she said. “We have staff, we have staff who want to be here, we have staff that want to remain here. It comes from those relationships that we build over time and listening to the needs of our staff as best as we can.”
Still, East Lansing schools are in need of employees at other positions.
The district’s custodian shortage was the main topic of discussion at the Monday, Sept. 12 school board meeting. Glover-Payne said the shortage has forced other school employees to step up to fill the gaps. Even high ranking school employees like Superintendent Dori Leyko and new high school principal Shannon Mayfield have stepped up to help keep the school clean.
“One of the things that I think is special about our district – we’re willing to help where there’s a need,” Glover-Payne said.
The district will continue to try to hire custodians and will look to terminate its contract with Jani-King International Inc. in December. Jani-King is a private company that has provided custodial services for East Lansing schools since 2003.
In an email sent by Leyko to district staff Thursday, Sept. 8, the superintendent described the long hours custodians were having to work and sacrifices other staff members were having to make due to the shortage.
“We are currently short five to eight custodians across the district daily,” she wrote. “Some of our current folks are working the day shift at one building and then covering another building’s night shift. They may be working from 7 a.m.–11 p.m. on these days. Central office folks are supplementing cleaning as we are available – emptying trash, vacuuming, cleaning student tables and desks, etc. This model isn’t sustainable, though, and we’ll have to muddle through a few more months with hopes of some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Beyond the custodian shortage, the school district is in need of support staff, especially paraprofessionals.
Glover-Payne said paraprofessionals are needed to support teachers. They can be especially helpful with students who need more one-on-one time, when students have sudden outbursts, and working with special needs students.
“All of them provide a different level, depending on the type of classroom, [they] provide that additional level of support that is needed by the main teacher,” she said.
Glover-Payne said pay is a hurdle when trying to hire support staff.
“People are not wanting to start or work at the salary range where we are,” she said. “To be honest, our biggest competitors are like fast food restaurants or retail.”
The positions starting pay range from $14.45 to $18.96. However, the school district provides insurance and other benefits that make the positions more lucrative than other jobs paying a similar dollar amount.
One problem is that common recruitment techniques are often not enough for the school district.
“A lot of times, we can do our part where we can post it on Applitrack, we can post it on Indeed, we can post it on LinkedIn [and not get applicants],” Glover-Payne said.
As a solution, the school district is taking a creative approach and incentivizing teachers with a small bonus if they recruit people to the open positions. The hope is a pitch from a person a potential employee knows will be more convincing than the online postings.
Interested applicants can view all available positions here.