How a shortage in substitute teachers and bus drivers is affecting Wisconsin

Local News

Black River Falls and Sparta, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX)-Elementary school students may find a day with a substitute teacher as a fun way to try and sneak in an extra recess. One back to school issue that’s not new to districts but amplified due to the pandemic is the shortage in substitute teachers.

“I would say the sub shortage has been talked about in every region, in every conversation we are a part of. Nobody has fixed that.” Dr. Shelly Severson, Black River Falls School District superintendent said.

The district has 175 full time teachers and only 27 substitutes with varying availability currently signed up. Black River Falls School District superintendent Dr. Shelly Severson said.

Whether a radio spot, newsletter ad, or parent meetings. The schools are always trying to recruit. The school district says that in a normal year if a substitute teacher is unable to be found for a class that the students are split up into the other classes of the same grade level, however, this year with COVID-19 that’s not an option.

If we can’t find a substitute, we’re going to have to pull somebody else from within the building which means there might not be music that day because that teacher is subbing. There might not be PhyEd one day or a school counselor might be subbing that day. With the mask mandate in effect, Black River Falls no longer needs to limit subs to one building.  The district also has two, full-time floating subs who were used every school day last year. The shortages don’t stop with teachers.

Transportation has been a real challenge and as I talk to colleagues across the whole state nobody has figured out how to be able to socially distance on the bus.

This year, Black River Falls is having early release so aides can assist bus drivers with assigned seats and mask requirements. The district has 18 bus routes and just four sub bus drivers.

Finding it difficult to fill the position, some districts turn to bus companies like southwest for contracts. Southwest covers busing in Sparta, Prairie du Chien, and De Soto.

Those three cities require around 60 drivers, and in mid-august. Positions still need to be filled.

“It’s getting to be crunch time. Luckily, we do have a few shop staff myself, our router, and a few mechanics that are able to drive buses. They do have their licenses. Around 60 percent of the company’s employees are retired.” Jason Schwarz said. 

For Black River Falls, a significant amount of subs and bus drivers are also retired. An age group at a higher risk for Coronavirus.  The COVID factor did play into it a little bit. We did lose a few drivers at the end of last year when the schools closed. Bus driver roles can be harder to fill because of the long process required for training and certification. Southwest is working with school districts weekly to adhere to COVID plans and stocking up on PPE.

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