School faced with shortages in all departments

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 9:54 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 11:17 PM CDT

HARRISBURG, Ark. (KAIT) - The Harrisburg School District is facing staff shortages due to COVID-19.

The shortages have the employees spread thin and scrambling to find help.

The school is especially experiencing shortages in the lunchroom.

“I have one this year that’s pregnant, fixing to have a baby in three weeks, and then I also have one that is positive with COVID, so last week, I got to a situation to where I was down two people,” said Susan Smith, the high school food service manager.

There are five full-time employees working in the kitchen. They serve about 300 kids daily. Smith says they’ve been dealing with shortages for years, but dealing with COVID-19 has made it worse.

“We’ve had several, including myself, last year. I have a grandson that had it, so I had to quarantine, and we just, we do what we have to do to feed the kids,” said Smith.

Last week, superintendent Chris Ferrell had to pitch in.

“Mr. Ferrell and our food service director jumped in and came over and helped us, and we got through the day,” said Smith.

“Last week alone, I was a maintenance man, a cafeteria worker, and was a breath from being a bus driver again,” said Ferrell.

Right now, the school is down two bus drivers.

Ferrell says they sent out a letter to parents explaining it might be 6 p.m. before their child can be brought home on a bus, urging pick up if possible.

Head mechanic Jeremy Williams is putting in double the work. He also drives buses.

“There’s a lot of people that do either have to be quarantined or just quit driving altogether, so bus driving is very much a shortage, and it’s just not a shortage here for us. It’s a shortage across the state,” said Williams.

Williams says they’re trying to fill the open positions. They have two applicants that are trying to get their Class B CDL license with a passenger and school bus endorsement. It’s hard to find qualified people to fill the role.

Ferrell says they need substitutes in every department.

“At one point, in our middle school last year, 50 percent of the teachers were out quarantined or positive,” said Ferrell.

Last year, there weren’t enough subs to go around.

“We relied heavily on a couple of full-time subs that we hired because we were proactive on that, but our para pros and teacher’s aides saved us last year because many people worked outside of their job description,” said Ferrell.

He explains requiring masks will reduce the shortage. Right now, they have 12 positive cases, with four being staff. Fifty-five people are in quarantine. He says it could have easily been 300 to 500 without masks.

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