From changing bus schedules, to prioritizing which areas of LSW need custodial care the most, the shortage in employees in LSR7 has made its effect. Crumbs stay on classroom floors for days, human services positions stay vacant, and it appears to be no one’s fault but the circumstance.
This shortage issue has most heavily impacted the human services sector at West. One department specifically struggling is custodial services. Assistant Principal Frank Honn said that since around August, they have been significantly short of their 11 member custodial night staff.
This shortage of employees has caused the custodial staff to prioritize key areas of the school to keep clean. According to Honn, the things that must be done regardless of staff number each night include cleaning bathrooms, emptying all trash cans, sanitizing the nurses’ office, and cleaning the food service area.
“Those are things that are just mandatory, have to do, then after that, it would be like your floors, then vacuum your stairwells, whiteboards being wiped off, student desks and chairs being wiped off. Those would be things that again, with a full crew, and on a typical night, would happen. But, when you’re short staffed, those can’t happen every night,” Honn said.
He said that this is not preferable to anyone at the school including the custodial staff, but they are forced to work with what they’ve got. While working the average 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, including after school activity cleanup, there has to be sacrifices for sanity.
A suggested reason that these spots are not being filled is, “especially with COVID, [there is] more mobility in the job market. So, people come in, they’re hired, and they leave and go for other employment opportunities. Nationally, unemployment is very, very low. So a lot of these jobs that we have vacancies for are highly competitive,” said Dr. Emily Miller, Assistant Superintendent of operational services.
“Our district has done a great job of being proactive. I think if you stack Lee’s Summit up against other districts, we’re faring pretty well; but we’re still feeling the shortages on a day to day basis. In some departments more so than others,” Miller said.
Dr. David Carlson, Executive Director of Human Resources, said that during the hiring process, he makes a point, in his opinion, that working in the LSR7 HR sector is rewarding, “mission driven work” that positively impacts students.
“You see the custodians in your schools, cleaning touch points and floors and tables and vacuuming and a walk back in the next day, and the rooms miraculously ready to go. That’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of,” Carlson said.
Honn said, because of the shortage of custodial employees at West, that this is not always the case.
“Right now, we are short custodians. We’ve been short for quite a while now. So, on a typical evening, we have things that are not getting done every night, like we would hope they do because we’re short staffed,” Honn said. “So, there has to be maybe some nights—it may be two or three nights—before a white board gets wiped off or something like that. It just depends again on how many staff that we have.”
At an all time high, custodial services were short six employees. As of right now, their staff is short four, Honn said.
“I believe our custodians are doing the best that they can when they’re short. The other thing that makes it difficult on some evenings, that people take for granted, is the amount of activities that we have in and outside the building on any given week,” Honn said. “There’s setups and teardowns that the custodians have to do for each one of those events, where maybe on a typical day, you wouldn’t have to worry about.”
Back at District Office, Carlson and Miller said they have had to think outside the box for recruitment to work to fix this issue.
Through a newly implemented virtual hiring and recruiting website called Brazen, business cards, encouraging LSR7 parents to work part-time, weekly newsletters from school principals, changing employment requirements, and competitive benefits, Carlson said that LSR7 is constantly recruiting.
“Even at a restaurant, I recruited a resource aid that we hired when I was having dinner. It was a former parent out when I was at Summit Lakes. I talked to her about being a resource aid and gave her our contact info. She applied, and went from there,” Carlson said.
“What we always say is everyone has to be a recruiter… We’re having to go more towards those folks, where they are not really worried about how much they make, they just want to help their community,” Carlson said.
While “getting pretty creative” with their marketing style, he said he is aware that as a public school district it is hard to compete financially.
“People [other districts] are really trying to ramp up the dollars that they’re spending on hourly rate. And as a school district, we’re really never able to compete the same way as other entities are to do that. But what we do offer is great benefits,” Carlson said.
“When recruiting, we will also focus on the fact that this is mission driven work. You get to serve and support kids. When we talk to new hires, I always lead with the fact that one of the most important things about working in education and being a custodian here, because our kids don’t learn if they’re not in a safe, clean classroom,” Carlson said.
Before COVID-19, unemployment rates in Missouri were at around the same as they are right now. But, due to the pandemic, the school district has had a lot of movement in positions, retirement, and new found issues.
“It [MO unemployment rate] was around 3% before COVID. But, the issues we are seeing now, even though we’re at about the same unemployment rates, are really really different… It’s starkly different, the challenges that we are finding with finding people to work,” Carlson said. “We are finding that even when we throw money at this, it doesn’t always help because sometimes money is not the motivator we think it is.”
“We’re seeing what was once a bus driver challenge is now a challenge everywhere and the unemployment is about the same as far as rate. But, there are a lot of people that because of, or related to COVID, left the workforce, and they’re choosing not to come back right now. There’s a lot of theories as to why… and some of those can get kind of political and polarizing. But the fact is, you know, we’re having to get creative,” Miller said.
Miller noted that historically LSR7 has been successful in filling and keeping positions, but COVID had brought new challenges.
“Part of the attraction to the school district is the culture that we have, you know, the ability to serve students, the benefits, the retirement and word of mouth, it’s a good place to work and how we spread that word,” Miller said.
At West, Honn said we should appreciate all that human services—nurses, lunchroom aids, and custodians—jobs that are filled do, even while short staffed.
He said that they are all having to compensate for empty positions by doing more, and taking initiative to keep West a clean place to learn.
“I think, in all three of those areas, it would be great if we could fully staff those. And our people that are in those positions right now, in this building, they’re working very hard. They’re doing a great job, and we definitely appreciate everything they do. Because we couldn’t do things we do around here without the things that they do. And so we just really appreciate what they’re doing,” Honn said.