DES MOINES, Iowa — Saydel High School students got an unexpected three-day weekend this week: staffing shortages forced the district to cancel Friday classes.
"I've been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen it this bad," said Superintendent Martin Todd in a phone interview with Local 5.
Sixteen staff members at the high school were not able to work on Friday due to a variety of reasons: illness, child care issues or already having the day off.
"We didn't feel like we could run the school safely," Todd said about the reduced amount of staff.
Finding enough substitute teachers to cover classrooms has been a headache for Todd for more than two months. He said for the first time in his career, he's hired three full-time substitute teachers to cover classes.
The situation is fluid for the Saydel Community School District, so it is hard to predict if and when more schools will cancel classes.
The superintendent said over the last few weeks, classes were on the brink of getting canceled at the district's elementary and middle school buildings.
Todd said he's had conversations with other school leaders in neighboring districts, and everyone is struggling to find full-time teachers and enough substitutes to fill in.
Over the last few years, Todd said he's seen more teachers exit the profession earlier than expected.
It's not just teachers leaving the field that's creating a strain on resources in Iowa schools, but not enough people are signing up to be new teachers right now.
"20 years ago, I would have had 200 applications for some of the positions in the district," said Todd. "Now, we're lucky to get half a dozen."
Todd said it's even harder to find more specialized teachers, saying he's had some job posts up without any applicants.
Saydel isn't alone.
Staffing shortages in Iowa schools are a problem everywhere, according to Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek.
"We have a shortage not only with certified teachers but classified folks who are working in our public schools," Beranek told Local 5's Laryssa Leone. "Also, there is a shortage across the entire system. And there are a number of reasons for this."
A parent from Saydel, who wished to remain anonymous, told Local 5, "It's pathetic they canceled school today, kids need to learn, in the same breath, teachers are exhausted! Their hands are tied by administrators. We need discipline and backing!! The district can't even retain subs due to all the problems this district has."
Sheilla King, chief information officer for Heartland Area Education Agency (AEA), said she understands parents' frustrations.
"There just aren't enough subs," King said. "So I know there's an effort across the AEA system to really you know, try to support school districts and address this need so."
King said Heartland Education is working to help get substitute teachers in schools as quickly as possible.
Beranek's solution? Support educators.
"We need to stop the narrative that is occurring out in some of our communities in demonstrating a lack of support for our educators, our educators are going to work every day to do the best they can for the children that they receive," Beranek said.
Over the summer, Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted the emergency proclamation regarding substitute teachers and put pre-pandemic requirements back in place.
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