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Staffing shortages a difficult test for Tucson schools

Posted: 11:40 PM, Mar 04, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-07 07:12:10-05
Staffing shortages at Tucson schools go beyond teachers in the classrooms.

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — This winter’s Omicron spike held hundreds of Tucson-area teachers and staff out of their schools. That tidal wave of Covid absences is now over, but schools are still significantly short-staffed.

Those shortages go beyond just teachers and bus drivers.

Margaret Chaney—president of the Tucson Education Association, which represents local educators—says not only do schools need more teachers, but the teachers that are working are being forced to take on other roles.

“[Teachers] wanna help as many people as we can, but we’re not necessarily equipped to be the counselor, and the social worker and the psychologist and so on and so forth,” Chaney said, estimating that local schools are about 20 percent below ideal staffing.

It’s a cycle of struggle: schools are understaffed, and vacancies are filled with various substitutes or staff who are stretched thin. That lack of consistency puts an extra strain on students, which is then also felt by their teachers.

“Kids who have those substitutes or those vacancies tend to have more behavior issues; that’s just the way kids are,” Chaney said. “It’s really, really heartbreaking what’s going on. And if we had the staff, we could address those things. But we don’t have the staff.”

Tucson Unified School District sent KGUN 9 the following statement regarding its “significant” staffing shortages.

Like most employers, TUSD is experiencing significant staffing challenges this year at all levels of the organization. We need custodians, teachers, bus drivers, plumbers, and Principals – every section of our district has been impacted. In response, we are working closely with our employee bargaining groups and our TUSD Governing Board to address the challenges through wage reviews and recruitment and retention strategies. We are looking at stipends and referral bonuses, and we are taking a very holistic look at our priorities, employee culture, and benefit offerings to see what types of changes we can make to increase our marketability as an employer.
Renée Heusser, TUSD Human Resources

But even with a crucial hiring cycle coming this summer, there’s concern that many school openings won’t be filled. According to Chaney, Covid’s impact on the job is one factor, but so are salary and treatment concerns that pre-date the pandemic.

“There’s just so much headache around being in public education right now that more and more people are saying, “You know, I don’t know if this is for me. I don’t know that it’s worth the journey, so to speak. So that’s very critical to address as well.”

Chaney says TEA offers professional development lessons for new teachers, and that even though the first few years on the job can be tough, the struggle is worth it.

“That’s what gives me the energy to keep going—and truthfully, I think that’s the case for a lot of veteran teachers—is knowing that they’ve made this impact [on students],” she said.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.