The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District is struggling to fill positions in several categories including custodial staff, bus drivers, nurses, paraeducators and special education teachers.

The District previously discussed the challenge in finding bus drivers but at the most recent meeting of the SMMUSD Board, the student representative said staffing shortages on campus are starting to impact student life.

“We are experiencing a major staff and substitute shortage. This is causing some classes to be canceled resulting in students being left outside the classroom,” Nathan Castanaza ASB Student Member of the Board said. “We’ve also noticed that this is happening after Oct. 1 which enforced the vaccine mandate for all staff on campus. The major shortage of teachers and substitutes is becoming very transparent. I personally experienced a period where I had to meet in the cafeteria with another class because of this lack of subs had my teacher supervising two classes at once. There’s also a custodial staff shortage and it appears that classrooms are not being cleaned because of the lack of people showing up to work.”

Officials said they couldn’t attribute the lack of employees to the vaccine mandate but did acknowledge challenges filling several kinds of positions.

“We have fewer than 90 total regular employees who are not yet vaccinated. We continue to work with these employees regarding the mandate and expectations,” Dr. Mark Kelly, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources said. “The loss of staff in certain departments and school sites has been challenging, but our site administrators and district leaders are working to ensure the continuity of learning for our students, and all support services.”

The challenges include dealing with retirements and attrition.

“At the start of the year, we had a few teachers, like me, who moved to another position and left an open position at Samohi. There have been a few retirements and resignations for various reasons including finding a job closer to their home — housing in Santa Monica is too expensive for our teacher salaries,” Claudia Bautista-Nicholas SMMCTA President said. “Some of our teachers come from very far away: Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Valencia, deep in the valley, Corona, etc. Finding the right teacher for those positions can also be difficult especially for those who taught specialized classes such as AP Biology, AP English or AP Spanish Language. The shortage of substitute teachers is that many of the subs we had in 2019 left the district permanently since there was little need for substitute teaching while we were teaching remotely. Some took permanent jobs. It also takes a long time to process new applications to hire anyone to teach because we have to be fingerprinted. That can take about one month.”

Kelly said there’s a large pool of paraeducators available but the District is experiencing turnover for the positions.

“Kind of behind that is special education teachers. That’s one where we need it, it’s a tough job. They’re dedicated, committed people. It takes a particular kind of individual who has the patience to serve, and really can manage that kind of diverse tasks, it’s a bit different than more conventional teaching assignments,” he said. “We are hurt, you know, in our maintenance and operation custodial and support services that’s also developing where we have particular needs right now.”

PTA members have encouraged the district to look into the community to steady the workforce since nationwide jobs are available, but not being occupied.

“We are also aware that we have parents and guardians out there who are out of work,” Gabrielle Cohen said. “So we would like to have anyone in our community, consider looking at the job openings in our district and cities first to see if you fit the requirements for one of the positions and help us have a win-win situation.”

The district is trying to get the word out about the openings, but has not had much success and the problem seems to be sticking around.

“I think we continue to just try to get the word out as much as possible, try to get people engaged in that process. Our Personnel Commission in some of these classifications. They have continuous recruitment going on, so they’re always engaged in the process,” Kelly said. “The positions are always posted and open for people to apply.”

Boardmember Keith Coleman agreed that the word must get out, and seemingly depending on the online postings is not cutting it.

“When we’re looking at things that are much more localized, word of mouth is a way to do things digitally and I know that people do look at job boards etc, but oftentimes we know that if I say that to Bill and Bill says to Jennifer and Jennifer says to Sally, you know, that kind of information, and sometimes it can be much more compelling,” he said.

To apply for the open positions visit: https://www.smmusd.org/Page/3994

daniel@smdp.com