With some metro school districts reporting significant issues finding teachers for the fast-approaching school year, Eden Prairie Schools finds itself in a much better position, according to the district’s human resources director.
Teacher shortages were a problem before the pandemic hit in early 2020, especially for substitute teachers and in some subjects.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are over a half million fewer teachers in American schools than before the pandemic. Eden Prairie hasn’t felt that squeeze.
“We haven’t been impacted as significantly by the staffing shortage that maybe you’re hearing about on the national news,” said Tom May, executive director of human resources for the district.
Indeed, finding employees to support those teachers has become the biggest challenge.
The most openings in Eden Prairie currently are in support positions throughout the district, including nurses, bus drivers, and most of all, paraprofessionals, May said.
21 teacher positions open …
As of Aug. 23, of the 126 open positions listed on the district’s careers page, 21 of them (or 16.7%) are for licensed teaching staff. Those listings cut across many subject areas, including music, physical education, language arts, social studies, art, sign language and others. No listings were specific to mathematics or science.
“Our job application pools are not as deep as they were five years ago,” May said. “but we are still able to find really highly qualified educators … who are coming here with experience and a passion for Eden Prairie.”
The district is working to fill three other areas: bus drivers (10), food service workers (10), and paraprofessionals.
… and 49 para positions
The highest number of openings district-wide are for paraprofessionals, who work at all grade levels assisting teachers in a multitude of ways.
A total of 49 paraprofessional positions — or 39% of available jobs — remain open in Eden Prairie, 27 of which are in special education.
Special education paras are required to have a two-year degree or higher, 60 credits toward a degree, or pass a ParaPro assessment. Pay starts at about $20 per hour for most special ed paras.
Kindergarten and lunchroom paras start at $17.64 per hour and require only a high school diploma or equivalent. Pay scales can differ depending on the position, as do workdays which vary between 3 and 6.5 hours long.
Eden Prairie is not alone. Surrounding districts are experiencing similar issues.
Minnetonka is looking to hire 31 teachers and 33 paraprofessionals. Edina needs 18 teachers and 25 paraprofessionals. Eastern Carver County Schools covering Chanhassen and Chaska is looking for six teachers and 25 paraprofessionals.
May says the market for bus drivers, food service workers, and paraprofessionals is different than for many jobs in the district.
The problem is there aren’t many people out there looking for these specific types of jobs, May said.
“Likely, individuals (interested in these jobs) may not need to work or would be interested in helping out the district,” he said.
He believes that the jobs might look more tempting when potential applicants learn more about them.
“These are really great positions that offer great benefits, paid holidays, paid sick time, pension plan, no nights, no weekends, working on school days only,” he said.
But for now, the district needs to deal with what happens on Sept. 6 — the first day of school.
“We have plans in place to cover for those positions for the first day,” May said. “We have other staff members who help us with driving school buses. We are able to restructure and reassign our food service staff to meet the needs of sites.”
Staffing the open paraprofessional positions – particularly in special education — will be a challenge, he acknowledged.
“We will have to be having a lot of conversations (about those),” he said.
125 new teachers
There are about 650 licensed teachers in the Eden Prairie school district, May said. The district has already hired 125 new teachers for the 2022-23 school year.
Demographically, the new hires and returning teachers fall into a similar breakdown in age and experience.
While May didn’t have exact numbers, he broke the district’s teaching staff down by thirds.
“About a third of our staff are 20-plus year teachers (in Eden Prairie),” he said. “Another third are between 10 and 20 (years), and another third are less than 10 years. I think that mix probably still plays out (with new hires).”
Eden Prairie is able to hire experienced teachers in some areas, which keeps the ratio of less experienced to very experienced about the same, he said.
About 40 teachers took the district up on early retirement incentives in the 2022 school year, May said. That’s higher than the 20 or so retirements in a typical year, he said. Whether the pandemic had anything to do with that, “I don’t know the answer,” he said.
There were no program reductions or eliminations, or budget-related cuts, he said.
Over the past five years, the district has hired between 70 and 80 new teachers each year. “We’ve hired 125 … and, yes, that’s an increase,” May said. “But we’re used to hiring a lot of teachers. We’re a big system and we do see some turnover here. That’s just part of the business.”
Employer of choice
Historically, filling teaching positions in Eden Prairie has not been a problem.
“Eden Prairie is a school district that educators aspire to be at,” May said. “We are an employer of choice for many applicants.”
He credited the support provided to incoming teachers for part of the positive reputation the district enjoys. “The support that new teachers receive from our veteran mentor teachers may be unique (compared) to other systems,” he said.
He also pointed to strong professional development and good relationships between administration and teachers as helping with staff retention.
“The district is also in the top tier of total compensation in the west metro,” May said. “So that could make a difference.”
May isn’t sure about the exact number of applications the district receives each year. “With our elementary positions, it isn’t uncommon for us to have a few hundred applications for a position,” he said. Special education positions receive fewer applications, he added.
Ready for 2022-23
Even though it faces some challenges as the new school year approaches, May is confident that the district is ready,
“I think it’s important for people to know that, while we are seeing an increased number of positions at this time of year,” May said, “we’re still in a position and very prepared for the start of the school year.”
Meanwhile, May said the district will also use direct marketing to the community via social media, postcards, and letters to help find people to fill the positions.
The district will hold a hiring event for bus drivers, food service workers, and paraprofessionals on Monday, Aug. 29, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and again from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Both will be at the Administrative Services Center, 8100 School Road.