Staffing remains a pinch point at Aspen School District

Preschool, transportation, food service departments adapting to shortages

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When Aspen School District declared a “staffing crisis” days before the school year began last week, district officials warned that the abundance of unfilled positions could directly impact the student experience.

That dire need for workers remains, according to department directors who spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting. But in the meantime, departments are adapting to ensure students get what they need.

“Considering how short-staffed we are, we’re really making it work,” The Cottage Preschool Director Simone Grogan said.

Grogan was able to hire one applicant for the infant division, thereby expanding The Cottage’s capacity to care for young ones. But there’s still a need for more staffers; getting more staffers lead teacher-certified — and, again, hiring more early childhood education professionals — will help ensure classrooms are covered.

Adaptation is also the standard over in the food service department, where staffing is still looking sparse and nationwide labor shortages are impacting the food supply chain and deliveries, said food service director Tenille Folk.

“We’re getting through and getting creative,” Folk said.

The middle school kitchen, which is budgeted for two staffers, has zero at the moment; the high school kitchen, which is budgeted for four staffers, has two.

Folk is currently covering the gap in the middle school kitchen, and some district staffers have helped out on the cashier front; Folk said she has tried to work with a temp company as well but it isn’t a sure-fire guarantee for consistent staffing.

Folk also said she could use even more staffers than the current allotment — ideally, she’d like to have three at the middle school and five at the high school — because the demand for food service is higher than in the past.

First-week numbers are “better than pre-COVID days,” Folk said. “We’re definitely feeding a lot of kids.”

But on the staffing front, she said, “I haven’t been getting any bites whatsoever.”

Transportation is feeling the trickle-down effects of nationwide shortages among a local tight market for bus drivers and mechanics, too, said transportation director Reghan Mahaffey.

Though all routes are currency covered to get students to and from school every day, a lack of substitute bus drivers means there’s “very minimal wiggle room” in the event that a driver calls out sick or that a bus is needed for sporting events or field trips, Mahaffey said.

The district may need to call in motor coaches at some point to cover some of those extracurricular gaps, she said.

And in the meantime, Mahaffey and one of the bus mechanics are helping cover substitute shifts. That works as a short-term fix but isn’t helpful when a bus needs maintenance and the district is down a mechanic; there is already an unfilled mechanic position in that department.

Other auto shops throughout the valley are facing the same labor shortages, Mahaffey noted — it’s not just a district-level issue and not just a staffing issue that could complicate transportation.

Mahaffey said she has been working some magic to ensure that all routes and requests are covered, but at some point, “there’s no magic left.”

The district is still hiring a number of other positions, including substitute teachers, classified paraprofessionals and several athletics team coaches. All open positions are listed at