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Schools still in need of nutrition, janitorial and transportation staff

By Carly Sauvageau

The national education staffing shortage is continuing to affect Washoe County School District.

WCSD human resources chief Emily Ellison on Tuesday presented an update on hiring to the Board of Trustees.

Since July 1, 2021, WCSD has hired 79 workers in transportation, 72 in nutrition services and 90 in housekeeping. However, the district is still struggling. 

“One step forward, one step back is certainly the feeling right now,” Ellison said. “I think that the market is terribly competitive and compensation is a huge component of that when talking about these areas.”

Finding money that can fund compensation is more complicated than a one-time project, Ellison said. 

For this reason, one-time funding cannot be used for hiring. Pandemic relief funding is also not an ideal source for covering employee salaries. Not only was it intended for pandemic recovery, it will not be available beyond the 2024 school year. 

Ellison said there is also a struggle to strike a balance between getting hires who are qualified and hired with fair compensation for the level of complexity within their role, all the while trying to keep morale up with current staff.

“We are working hard to balance all these considerations and most significantly morale…. We have to again be very sensitive to devising a plan that doesn’t have detrimental consequences to the organization. And that’s understood by employees who obviously are experiencing this crisis shortage in these departments,” she said.

District continues to lose bus drivers

Even with the 26% increase in hires since July 1, 2021, the district is struggling with the bus driver shortage and is still losing staff. It needs an additional 47 drivers to eliminate the current area rotation plan system where some areas are provided transportation on certain days and other areas are not. 

Washoe County School Bus Driver Giana Curreri starts a bus up at the Ghetto Bus Yard in Sparks, Nevada on Sept. 17, 2021. Image: Richard Bednarski / This Is Reno

The goal is to get enough hires to go back to the hub system where students are picked up in a common area rather than buses going to individual neighborhoods. 

Ellison and district operations chief Pete Etchart said the plan for this summer is for the WCSD to go down two tracks of transportation planning simultaneously. 

The first track would focus on hiring and retaining as much staff as possible to get the number of drivers up. The transportation department would also  optimize the hub system to provide as many students with transportation as possible. 

The second track would be to prepare for the school year starting with the rotation transportation plan. This would involve an analysis by Dynamic Ideas LLC to weigh in variables of hardships and attendance. 

“On average it’s between three-and-a-half and four weeks to train a driver with no experience,” Scott Lee, director of transportation, said. 

The process involves getting a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). To get this license, a person must attend 20 hours of schooling and complete 20-60 hours of behind-the-wheel training. According to Lee, the newly trained driver would be accompanied by a qualified driver for some time while they run their route.

“We’ve got three classes coming up, we want to fill them to the max,” Etchart said.

The classes are June 21, July 11, and Aug. 1. 

Students want longer lunch breaks, more religious expression

Several high school students came to public comment to ask trustees for a minimum 40-minute lunch. Students referenced studies on the correlation between increased lunch time and decreases in tardies. They also shared teacher testimonials and policies as reasoning for the longer lunch breaks. 

Superintendent Kristen McNeill said that many students like to leave for lunch and the new In-N-Out Burger on Keystone Avenue is very popular among students, which may be the reasoning behind the request.

Other high school students came to the podium to ask for more religious expression in their schools. 

“Many school officials mistakenly believe religious expression would violate the so-called separation of church and state,” Aidan Fox-Cruz, a senior at Robert McQueen High School, said. 

He  said that it was often misunderstood that the First Amendment states there should be no expression of religion in schools since they are government entities. He felt that his First Amendment rights were not being upheld because he was not able to talk about his religion at school or easily be able to organize religious clubs at school.

Robert Wagner and William Reno, both seniors at McQueen, also said they wanted more inclusion of various belief systems in clubs and in history curricula.

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