SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — It’s the start of the school year and while classrooms are filling up with teachers, districts are working to make sure there are teachers in all of those classrooms.
Some districts are having to call in retired employees to get the job done.
The state has been dealing with a teacher shortage for years. That means every summer, school districts are faced with a new set of unique problems. If these problems don’t get better soon, some students may lose out on some crucial services.
Springfield Public Schools administrators feel better about the district’s position this year than they did last year.
“I want to have every position filled that we need,” said Gina McLaughlin-Schurman, Springfield Assistant Superintendent of Human Relations. “I’m not happy, but I’m pleased with the progress.”
But if you would’ve asked district officials how they felt only three weeks ago, the answer may have been different. The district filled nearly a dozen positions by bringing back retired teachers.
“It was crucial, most definitely crucial,” said Springfield Superintendent Jennifer Gill. “When you get down to those mid-August weeks, and you still haven’t filled some of your positions, having the retired teachers in our community, I am so thankful for them.”
State law allows retired teachers to come back for 120 school days and still get retirement benefits. The district will keep them on board until January. Then they expect to hire a group of student teachers currently working throughout the district.
Springfield still has a number of positions open. The Assistant Superintendent said there are 12 unfilled positions, but the district is also hiring for next semester, so there are a few dozen listings on their website.
Short-term fixes are becoming more and more common for school districts. While Springfield has a long list of tools at their disposal, smaller districts like Greenview, just north of Springfield, are also struggling to hire teachers and support staff.
“We’re spending a lot of time looking for staff that we used to not have to spend,” said Greenview Superintendent Ryan Heavner. “So that’s really eaten up a lot of time.’
Heavner said small districts like his often have to ask their teachers to take on more responsibilities to make sure certain programs can continue. And that adds an unsustainable strain on those employees.
“We’re fortunate that we have a good band teacher,” Heavner said. “But we also don’t want to stretch our staff too thin.”
The state has invested more money into helping with the teacher shortage. Over the next three years, the state will be spreading $70 million out to the schools with the most vacancies. That money can be used for sign on bonuses and other incentives to try and hire more teachers.