News - Joliet and Will County

Scrambling to find teachers, bus drivers in Will County

School starts this week for most districts and most districts are still hiring.

Joliet Township High School 204,  Joliet West High School, education

School districts across Will County are short of teachers, support staff and bus drivers as school starts this week.

Shawn Walsh, Will County regional superintendent of schools, said some shortages are typical but not “typical to this extent.”

“I think we’re seeing it get worse as time goes on,” Walsh said.

Theresa Rouse, the superintendent of Joliet Public Grade Schools District 86, said District 86 is filling the teachers gap with substitute teachers until it hires more full-time teachers, Rouse said.

“We do a lot of specialized training and support for our substitute teachers starting the year with us to be sure they are successful,” Rouse said.

District 86 also raised its substitute teacher pay from $130 to $200 per day at the last board meeting, Rouse said.

“For longtime subs who’ve been in the position for a period of time, that goes up even from there,” Rouse said.

The Illinois State Board of Education allows substitute teachers to teach no more than 30 calendar days in a school district if a certified teacher isn’t available.

Rouse is hoping the state will increase that to 60 or even 90 days to provide students with continuity. But Walsh said nothing is pending to change that as far as she knows.

District 86 contracts with First Student Transportation for busing, so it’s up to First Student to address any driver shortages, Rouse said.

More bus drivers needed

Lincoln-Way Community School District 210 has been “in good shape” teacher-wise the last few years, Superintendent R. Scott Tingley said. New hires are committed by “March, April at the latest,” he said, so school will start on Tuesday with few openings.

District 210 also hired full-time substitute teachers who “go into the full-time teaching role” if needed “to ensure coverage,” he said.

Bus drivers are in short supply, however. District 210 has “a couple drivers in the portal to gain licensure,” Tingley said.

“We’re optimistic as the school year goes on to be able to build back some of our capacity,” Tingley said. “But we are starting the school year a little short.”

Paul D. Schrik, superintendent at Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C, said the district is “down a few bus drivers” but not to the extent that it will crowd buses or lengthen routes when school starts Wednesday.

“We’ve been dealing with this since [COVID-19],” Schrik said.

Schrik said Troy’s special education positions are harder to fill. So Troy has worked closely with the Will County Regional Office of Education in terms of licensure for staff, adjusting class sizes and schedules and seeking other possibilities, such as filling gaps with existing staff if their teaching licenses have the appropriate endorsements, Schrik said.

“It’s the endorsements that are critical,” Schrik said.

For example, Schrik said he is endorsed to teach middle school math and middle school science. If a school hired Schrik to teach science and someone left, the school could tell him, “Paul, we need to you to teach middle school math,” Schrik said.

Whether the adjustment is short or long-term, the district keeps the position open until filled, Schrik said. Still, it’s not unusual for a teacher to accept a position only to accept another elsewhere few days later.

“That happens quite a bit,” Schrik said.

Bob McBride, superintendent of Lockport Township High School District 205, said “the staffing shortage has not hit us as hard as other places,” although the district needs more bus drivers to pick up students in a 65-square-mile radius.

“Without bus transportation, we have no school,” McBride said.

McBride said District 205 tried for more than six months to hire a third bus mechanic, but the district is competing with dealerships and private repair shops, he said.

It’s not unusual to need extra paraprofessionals when a student with a specialized need enrolls in school and requires a paraprofessional to work one-on-one with that student, McBride said.

“So we’re just starting that hiring process,” McBride said.

Sharing resources

Kristine Schlismann, spokesperson for Joliet Township High School District 204, said in an email that District 204 has filled all but three of its 43 teaching positions – but 40 bus driver and 24 paraprofessional positions are open.

District 204 is asking families to transport their students – if possible – and for those riding by car to come to school early to decrease traffic congestion, she said.

Moreover, District 204′s 16 full-time task force subs – eight at each campus – will help out until the open positions are filled, Schlismann said.

“It is typical to start the school year with a few unfilled positions often due to last minute resignations,” Schlismann said in the email.

Jim Blaney, spokesperson for Valley View Community Unit School District 365U, said in an email the district is short on special education staff and paraprofessionals as well as lunchroom and playground aides – which Valley View is actively trying to fill through publicizing openings and a late July job fair that led to several candidates.

Blaney said existing staff can cover any additional needs when Valley View starts school on Thursday.

Glenn Wood, superintendent for Plainfield Community Consolidated School District, said the district has 20% more staff openings than in previous years, mostly paraprofessionals and special education aides.

Teachers will share existing support staff until those positions are filled, he said. Otherwise, District 202 will start the school year on Thursday almost fully staffed.

Wood said District 202 contracts with First Student for bus service and is not expecting any open bus routes.

“We’ve used them for all of our transportation except for special education,” Wood said. “But now they’re going to pick up our special education as well.”

But it’s not just public schools dealing with teacher shortages.

Mary Massingale, spokesperson for the Diocese of Joliet, said hiring always continues up to the first day of school. Diocesan Will County schools open this week and next, she said.

“The statewide teacher shortage is a complicating factor this year,” Massingale said in an email, “but all classes will be covered by the use of qualified short- and long-term substitute teachers.”