NA schools face a nationwide teacher shortage

North Allegheny has maintained stable professional staffing levels while finding it more challenging to attract temporary substitutes.

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Kat Klinefelter

According to the human resources department at NA, staffing difficulties have largely been invisible to students.

Andrew McLaughlin, Staff Writer

Of the real-world issues he has faced over his 26-year career, AP US History teacher Mr. Venezia sees the nationwide substitute teacher shortage as simply another challenge to overcome. 

“When teachers have absences planned ahead of time, it may go as expected, but in some cases, shortages have meant substitutes are covering multiple classes in the library at once,” Venezia said.

A need for substitutes remains at North Allegheny, but having a teacher cover two classes at the same time is not an everyday occurrence–rather, it is an exception when examining staffing levels across all departments.

“We have a lot of longevity in our employees… and we’re in a pretty good position now,” said Marijane Treacy, Director of Human Resources at NA. 

According to a report presented by North Allegheny Human Resources at the February 23rd School Board meeting, the district currently has 15 outstanding positions out of 231 that were open at the start of the school year.

However, temporary substitutes–not included in the HR report–remain the position in the highest demand.

“We’re not immune to the substitute shortage, so the district has implemented a guest substitute program,” Treacy told The Uproar.

In January, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill designed to ease the substitute shortage. By completing a program through the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the guest substitute teacher program allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree to gain substitute certification.

“The guest substitute program helps supplement our pool of substitutes,” said Treacy. 

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association reports that the average pay for Pennsylvania substitutes was $102 per day during the 2019-2020 school year. With a small rise to $105 per day during the following year, the daily pay of substitute teachers in Pennsylvania now exactly matches the national average.

[Hiring during] the past two school years… has been pretty much a race to the finish line. This year, we hope to have everybody in place by the start of school.”

— Marijane Treacy, Director of Human Resources at North Allegheny

Guest substitutes have been particularly needed during the recent spike in pandemic-related absences. 

“We had quite a few staff absences in January, so we really relied on that [guest] substitute employee pool,” Treacy said. “And frankly, that wasn’t even enough, as we had teachers being pulled to cover classes.”

Even with such temporary challenges, Treacy emphasizes that for the most part, “teacher absences are pretty steady.” 

As the HR department gets ready for the hiring season, Treacy stated that the district is hoping to alleviate stress during this year’s drive for new employees.

“We’re trying to get that process started a little earlier than has been the case in the past few years,” she said.

Although the HR department has seen its hiring efforts come down to the wire over the past few years, Treacy is optimistic that the campaign for next year will be a smoother process.

“[Hiring during] the past two school years… has been pretty much a race to the finish line. This year, we hope to have everybody in place by the start of school,” she said.

According to a national survey published by Education Week in October 2021, 15 percent of school districts called their staffing shortages “very severe,” 25 percent said they’re “severe,” and 37 percent classified staffing issues as “moderate.” On average, 23 percent of American schools are either mildly affected or not experiencing staff shortages. 

Despite such challenges, North Allegheny is experienced at consistently attracting new talent, even in a difficult job market. For instance, Treacy highlighted the need for Human Resources to use constantly changing technology to find applicants.

“[Online] job boards haven’t always been an avenue heavily used by people looking to work in a school district, but that’s changing now with the increased reliance on social media,” she said.

Difficulties are to be expected when hiring during a nationwide teacher shortage, yet NA Human Resources asserts that the district’s standing among area schools is key in attracting new talent.

“Our reputation is strong… North Allegheny’s status as a top school district for students also carries over into the employment realm,” Treacy told The Uproar

As a whole, Treacy emphasizes that the district has weathered pandemic-related labor problems remarkably well. The need for teachers, especially temporary substitutes, is still an example of a current national issue that affects every NA student daily, even if the process is largely contained behind the scenes. Regardless, due to continued efforts by the HR department, the minor obstacles posed by the shortages have been able to be overcome.