Aspen School District faces a ‘staffing crisis’ days before school begins
Unfilled positions will have direct impact on student experience
Days before the academic year begins, Aspen School District is facing a “crisis” of limited staffing in some of its departments that could directly impact students’ experiences when they arrive on campus for the first day of school Wednesday.
The food service department and The Cottage preschool and child care center are among the departments that will be most affected by the staffing shortage, district human resources director Amy Littlejohn said Thursday. The district issued a news release and corresponding document detailing the extent of those impacts Friday.
“Running schools is a complicated process, fundamentally interconnected. If these positions are not filled it is much harder to deliver the first-rate education children need and deserve, as we will then have staff playing off base, exhausted, and spread too thin,” Superintendent David Baugh said in a news release. “If we don’t have these positions filled, it will be harder to get the kids to school, support and feed them when they are here and finally clean up after the day is done. The whole organization is diminished.”
Four full-time positions are currently open in the food service department, with roles still unfilled in the Aspen High School Cafe, the high school kitchen and the middle school kitchen, according to the document.
The cafe will not be able to operate until that position is filled, so high school students will not have access to the breakfast, snack and grab-and-go options typically offered there. There will also be fewer options in the high school cafeteria because the kitchen is one staffer short.
The middle school cafeteria, with two open positions, is in dire straits: Unless the district finds people to fill those roles, the food service director will be the sole person responsible for food production at the middle school. Office staff will assist with cashier duties when they are available. There will not be a breakfast offering and the lunch menu will be limited.
Any day the director has to cover another kitchen (for instance, if a staff member calls in sick or takes a personal day), there will be no food service at all at the middle school. In such a scenario, fifth- and sixth-grade students may have to go to the elementary school for lunch and seventh and eighth grade students may have to go to the high school for lunch.
Fewer staff also means longer wait times for students to get food, leaving less time for them to eat lunch before returning to class.
Food service catered lunches for school events will be put on hold until positions are filled; the existing staff is already at “maximum workload capacity,” according to the document detailing operations impacts.
At The Cottage, four unfilled positions (and a fifth that may be open soon) will leave the school district’s preschool and child care center with no scheduling flexibility and existing staff stretched thin.
There is a wait list for students to register at The Cottage, but the facility currently does not have the staff to enroll those students. With only one infant teacher currently on the staff, the school cannot add any more infants until a second teacher is hired.
There are no additional staff available if a teacher calls in sick, and the director and assistant director must cover child care duties during staff breaks and planning time. The district hopes to hire at least one more “float” teacher to cover those breaks and help in each room so the director and assistant director can have more time to focus on administrative duties like writing grants and completing paperwork.
The district can offer financial assistance to new hires at The Cottage to take courses for their preschool teacher qualifications, according to Littlejohn. Some of the positions open are considered “entry level,” and the district will train applicants to ensure they are ready for the role, she said.
“Anyone who is interested, we would be grateful for them to apply, but we do consider them both entry level, meaning that minimal qualifications are needed,” she said.
The transportation department also has some hiring needs for three part-time bus drivers, one full-time bus mechanic and several part-time “bus aides” to ride with students and monitor the bus. Those openings will affect district operations, but covering district transportation is still manageable with those positions open.
Starting pay for open positions ranges from $17 to $25 depending on experience and benefits can include health, dental, vision and life insurance as well as a $600 wellness benefit and discounted ski pass. All open positions are listed at aspen.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx.
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Officials from Eagle County Health Department and Cornerstone Christian School in El Jebel plan to meet this week to come to terms on mask requirements for students.