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Full-time substitutes, no more meetings: Park City School District hears ideas for retaining teachers

Ben Lasseter

The Park City School District says an unprecedented staffing shortage has put it in ‘crisis mode.’ On Wednesday, the school board was presented with 30 ideas for how to attract and retain teachers.

3D printing, yoga, and cooking classes; year-end bonuses; a staff mental health or career services counselor — those were among the 30 ideas in a presentation made to the Park City Board of Education during a work session on Wednesday. The board called the special meeting with the singular focus of finding ways to hire and retain employees for what the district called hard-to-fill positions.

And these days, that covers everything from teaching to maintaining facilities to driving the school bus.

Human Resources Director Shad Sorenson told the board the district was in “crisis mode” and facing a situation it had never faced before. He said staff members don’t have the time to complete the additional responsibilities being asked of them.

“Today I looked and just at Ecker — I didn't even look at the other schools — but we had 15 classes that needed to be filled outside of what was filled by just substitutes,” Sorenson said. “And so, that impacts everybody. It impacts the teachers that are covering, it impacts the secretary, it impacts the para-educators or the ESPs. Everybody is impacted.”

Mary Morgan is a co-president of the union that represents most Park City teachers. She has said teachers are covering classes during their prep periods and sometimes doing that prep work from home. That leads to days that stretch from near sunrise to past sunset and the feeling that they’re “working all the time.”

Board Member Kara Hendrickson, a longtime teacher herself, suggested prep time was crucial.

“Now as my career profession was a teacher and I’ve worked 32 years, I was stressed just on a normal teaching year if I didn't get time to prep, because it was critical,” Hendrickson said. “You have to do some baseline understanding of where your students are, where they're going. And if you don't prep correctly, you just couldn't do it. I couldn't do it, anyway.”

Morgan said the district has been extremely helpful in proposing retention solutions, and that teachers appreciate the efforts. One of the more meaningful solutions, Morgan said, was a suspension of non-essential meetings, one of a number of ideas suggested with the goal of giving teachers more time.

Others include increasing hours of part-time employees and instituting co-teaching programs.

Another solution Morgan pointed to was hiring permanent substitute teachers.

The district did not respond to a request for comment or answer what percentage of requests for substitute teachers go unfilled. But Sorenson’s comments indicate there are not enough substitute teachers to go around.

Board Member Andrew Caplan also brought up hiring full-time subs. He said the district should take a five-year average of how many substitute teachers were needed each day at each school, and then hire accordingly.

He said raising the hourly wage, while it was necessary, likely wouldn’t be enough.

“We are just behind the wage inflation and we always will be and I think it's going to be really difficult, in today's economy, to continue to compete,” Caplan said. “So, you know, I think we have to start looking at making them full-time positions and changing the model. It's a nationwide problem. It's a problem in every industry and we have to, you know, I think we have to tackle this differently.”

Those full-time positions would likely include benefits and incur significant cost. Board President Erin Grady said the board would consider the idea during budget discussions, which begin in the coming months.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.