‘It’s a struggle everywhere’: Local school districts change up hiring incentives during staff shortage

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – From bus delays to lack of custodians and a desperate search for substitutes, staffing shortages continue to hit Inland Northwest schools, making it difficult for them to operate smoothly.

The Central Valley School District has 60 open positions, a high number for this time of year.

Corey Groh, the executive director of human resources for the district, says they normally do most of their hiring before school starts.

“The difference this year, there’s been a lot of movement with employees all across the job market,” Groh said.

He doesn’t attribute the staff shortage to the vaccine mandate. Instead, he says it’s because people are moving on to other career opportunities.

The district didn’t have anyone leave over the vaccine mandate.

RELATED: Central Valley School District has accommodations accepted, loses no staff to vaccine mandate

READ: ‘Vaccine are going to keep us in school’: Majority of Spokane-area school staff are vaccinated

“To be honest with you, because of the religious and medical accommodations we’re able to provide for our employees, I don’t think that has been a driver of that specifically,” Groh said. “It’s really just an opportunity for us to bring people back in and show them the opportunities they have with medical benefits, state-provided pension, those types of things.”

Groh doesn’t believe they’ve hit a crisis mode just yet. He says they’re trying to avoid that by being more proactive with their hiring.

They’re currently looking for more substitutes in many different positions, bus drivers, paraeducators, custodians and more.

The substitutes they had before have been brought on as full-time employees, so Groh says they’re trying to backfill those jobs.

For the hard-to-fill jobs, like paraeducators, custodians, bus drivers and attendants, they’re giving a hiring bonus between $750 to $1,500. That would be paid out next year after the end of this school year.

Groh says they’re also putting a bonus in place for employees in those hard-to-fill positions they’re in now.

“If those employees are able to achieve 95 percent attendance, this school year, then we’re able to provide them an incentive this coming July,” Groh said.

CVSD held a job fair on Tuesday, trying to bring people to them. Groh says they’ve already hired 15 people because of it and will continue trying to fill positions.

While CVSD needs to hire for 60 positions, East Valley School District, a smaller district, has 44 vacant positions.

“It’s a struggle everywhere,” said Jane Stencel, the director of human resources for EVSD.

EVSD does not have a hiring bonus, however, Stencel says they are reevaluating some of their wages.

“I think one thing that’s difficult in all of this that many of us forget is not only how we recruit more, but how do we take care of those employees that we already have. They’re also feeling the pressure of the shortage and employees and the impact of that and their stress levels are higher,” Stencel said.

Stencel says it’s a bit more difficult for them to offer higher wages because of being a smaller district and the income base from the state is smaller.

She believes the shortage is partly because of the vaccine mandate and also because of larger employers in the area.

“We want to remain competitive, but it is harder when you have McDonald’s that’s offering a higher wage than we’re able to, and then the larger businesses like Amazon who hire with a $3,000 hiring bonus. Those are a little more difficult to compete with,” Stencel said.

RELATED: 2 East Valley School District employees leave because of vaccine mandate

Stencel says the cost of goods is going up, including housing. Couple that with some of their schools not being easily accessible, she says it can be an obstacle for job candidates.

The Central Valley School District says the staff shortages haven’t impacted students’ education, but it has impacted operations. Staff is working more overtime to get things done and are moving to other schools to fill in. Most of their openings are in classified staff, so nutrition services, transportation and custodial work.

However, the East Valley School District is in need of more teachers and has been trying to hire four since last summer. Stencel believes the staff shortages at her district are impacting students’ learning.

“If we don’t have the supports in the classrooms, the students aren’t getting the same level of individualized instruction and attention than they have in the past,” Stencel said.

The need for more staff is widespread in the Inland Northwest.

The Mead School District says it has 40 vacant positions, including full-time and part-time employees as well as substitutes. This amount is also more than they normally would see.

Todd Zeidler, the spokesperson for the Mead School District, believes it’s in a staff shortage because there’s a lot of competition. Zeidler says some people decided to go into retirement earlier rather than work.

In an effort to bring more people on, Zeidler says they’re doing small presentations and have employees talk with applicants one-on-one. They’ve also increased hourly and substitute rates.

“Our open positions have competitive pay, great benefits and retirement. They all connect to student success and creating students who are future-ready, whether that be for the next class, grade level or career step. With that vision, positions in school districts are rewarding for employees and impactful for our youth,” Zeidler says.

Just 30 miles east of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene Schools is also seeing the same hiring struggles.

Scott Maben, the district’s spokesperson, says there are 37 openings. Like all the other school districts, they’re in need of more custodians, teachers, nutrition services workers and more. This is also a high amount of openings for them at this time of year.

The district says it doesn’t have a hiring bonus, but has increased pay for staff.

The Post Falls School District currently has 27 openings, which like other districts, is higher than normal.

Dena Naccarato, the superintendent, says it’s in need of about 20 more substitute teachers.

To take a look at the job openings and what districts are offering, visit the respective websites for more information.