Omaha-metro school districts struggle with staffing issues

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 12:52 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - On top of the pandemic, several Omaha-metro schools are also dealing with staffing shortages.

From lunch rooms to classrooms, metro school districts are short-handed. Not only does it affect the employees, but it also affects the children too.

“That’s one less small group of children who don’t get to work with an adult on skills they may have missed in the last 2 years,” said Dr. Pam Lowndes, Principal of Prarie Queen Elementary.

One Papillion-La Vista paraprofessional, Karen Sumpter, has helped teachers lower their workload for the past seven years and also helps students boost their learning curve at Prarie Queen Elementary.

Paraprofessional positions, typically held by young parents, retirees, and future teachers, are in very high demand.

“This is a real stepping stone for people who want a career in education, there’s not one-size-fits-all in who makes a good para,” said Sumpter.

The district currently has 40 openings for paraprofessionals - that’s 17% of the positions that are empty. Of course, students remain learning but it’s some of the extra resources that are missing.

Staffing shortages are even worse for those who prepare meals in the Westside school district.

“I love kids, I enjoy it,” said Laura Steyskal, who’s worked the kitchen at Sunset Hills Elementary for seven years.

The Westside district has 20 of those 85 positions open. Dealing with kids, skipping meals isn’t an option. This leaves kitchen employees doing more with less as their bosses endlessly post job openings anywhere that makes sense.

“This year, we’ve hit on the tried and trues, things we haven’t had to work on before, we’ve hit social media and hospitality and food groups out there,” said Erin Vik of Westside Schools Nutrition Services.

After all, Westside feeds 6,100 kids in its schools every day. On top of that, they feed an additional 5,200 children at small private and parochial schools across the Omaha-metro.

Both districts are working on incentives to sweeten the employment pot and they’re targeting parents with young children since the hours often coincide with the school day.

Next month, Westside will be holding its first-ever job fair aimed at seniors and those who don’t have strong internet skills and need to apply in person.

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