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GCPS experiences shortages in several employment areas

GCPS looking to hire bus managers, special ed and STEM teachers

Aspiring educators looking for a job in Gwinnett County may want to take note of recent figures about staff shortages.

Gwinnett County Public Schools officials have said areas such as special education, speech language pathology, math and science, middle and high school French and Spanish teachers, and most notably, bus managers, are experiencing “critical” shortages.

Of the 12 teaching vacancies announced in December, nine are in special education, two are in math and one is in science. The special education openings are equally spread across elementary, middle and high school.

“Those are becoming a little difficult to fill right now,” Associate Superintendent Frances Davis said.

District officials said that recent improvements in the economy have led to departures in bus management. While the district regularly advertises for new bus drivers, officials have stepped up efforts to find new employees.

Bus managers typically work 30 hours per week and make between $12.64 and $19.11 per hour. Davis said some bus managers have left for jobs that have higher pay and more consistent hours.

The district counts 1,572 bus drivers and currently has 47 vacancies.

Burnout is also a factor for bus supervisors who typically oversee either 40 bus managers, or in the case of special education, 77 drivers each.

The district holds regular information and training meetings, but the November class had 11 people.

“The pipeline is running empty,” Chief Operations Officer Danny Jardine said.

Davis said their goal is to have 30 people sign up for the January class before flu season kicks in.

Out of nine metro Atlanta area districts, GCPS ranks lowest in the hourly rate for bus drivers, at $12.64. The next closest is Clayton County at $14.28, while Atlanta Public Schools is the highest at $16.10.

“The gross salary is a concern of mine to attract drivers,” Board of Education member Louise Radloff said.

For its 20 drivers, Buford City Schools pays $18.03 per hour.

“We train our drivers better than everybody else, then they come and get poached from other school districts because they can make a dollar or two more (per hour),” Jardine said.

The district has increased advertising in local news media in recent weeks, and sent home “backpack fliers” in areas of the district where drivers are most needed.

“Some of the drivers we attract are retirees who like doing this, and being around the kids,” Jardine said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

The other areas of shortages have lingered for years because of a lack of college graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“The demand for teachers in these fields typically exceed the supply of teacher candidates graduating from traditional teacher education programs at colleges and universities nationwide,” said Sid Camp, the district’s executive director of human resources staffing. “The additional focus on STEM in schools has also increased the demand for teachers in these fields.”

The amount of paperwork and litigation in the fields of special education and are some reasons to explain those shortages.

“While we do have attrition,” Davis said, “we’re not able to meet demand, especially in autism.”

Added Camp, “Special Education has continued to be a shortage field for many years in Gwinnett and throughout the nation. Increasing graduation requirements in mathematics and science along with the STEM focus has increased the demand for teachers in the fields of mathematics and science.”

The average GCPS teacher has 15 years of experience, a master’s degree, is 42 years old and makes $55,795, according to the district. Davis told the Gwinnett County Board of Education in November that the staff attrition rate is at 9.5 percent, while the statewide rate was 12.2 percent.

Gwinnett’s starting salary for teachers with a four-year bachelor’s degree and no experience is $37,630, which is the lowest of the six metro Atlanta districts it benchmarks against. The other districts are Atlanta Public Schools ($43,616), DeKalb ($40,743), Fulton ($40,308), Forsyth ($39,447) and Cobb ($37,933) counties.

“But we still have been able to attract teachers,” Davis said. “It’s not the beginning salary that worries me, it’s the hope of some form of raise this year.”

The district doesn’t offer incentives to prospective teachers, but it maintains partnerships with colleges and universities, and has a program called TeachGwinnett, which facilitates certification for professionals moving from corporate America to the classroom.