WILMINGTON — At school districts including Wilmington, there is no shortage of shortages, be it in transportation, food service or classroom staffing.
Wilmington City Schools (WCS) Superintendent Mindy McCarty-Stewart and WCS Director of Business Operations Curt Bone gave an update on challenges in bus staffing and the cafeteria food supply chain at this week’s school board meeting.
Currently, there are three full-time positions not filled in the WCS Transportation Department: two full-time substitute drivers, and a van driver spot, which just became available, said Bone.
All it takes is to have a couple absences among the existing transportation staff and it becomes really tight, he said.
Contingency plans that are used include absorbing routes where one route is split among several buses; run a double route (only two routes in town can do this and be effective); take a couple routes and combine them with other routes so it’s a little bit less of a delay; and then the last option is to cancel a route for that day.
McCarty-Stewart said the transportation supervisor and Bone have tried to do their best to rotate things around so if, say, it’s one particular driver on one route who’s out several days, the same routes are not always getting canceled.
Often, the school district receives very limited advance notice on absences, naturally enough. “Things just come up whether it’s a driver who’s sick or a driver who has a family member who’s sick,” commented the superintendent.
She gave kudos to food service staffers and building staffers who respectively provides snacks and do activities when students are at school a little later because of waiting on a bus double rotation.
Bone said everyone is familiar with grocery store shelves not being as well stocked as they were in the past, and he said the schools are experiencing that also. A particular challenge for schools in this respect is to try to keep to the specifications of the national lunch food program regarding portions and certain proteins.
When a particular item is hard to get, Bone said they try to obtain equivalents — such as bite-size bug-shaped cinnamon graham crackers called Bug Bites instead of another brand’s graham crackers.
Board member Mike Flanigan asked about the level of interest in bus driving jobs. Bone said it is very slow, that WCS has had maybe three applicants since September.
Flanigan also wondered whether there’s any discussion at the national level about relaxing the national lunch food program requirements that Bone spoke of. Bone said it’s already been done in certain areas, “but we’re as much as we can trying to stay within those [specifications].”
He added as things become tighter, there may be a relaxing of regulations when it comes to whole grain or sodium.
Because of a substitute teacher shortage McCarty-Stewart said there are multiple times in a week when teachers lose their planning periods, which they use for lesson planning and contacting parents, because the teachers are doing “internal coverage” of a classroom.
The superintendent noted there fortunately are federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds to help cover the additional costs to districts of these challenges in food service and transportation and classroom staffing.
McCarty-Stewart reported Monday that over the prior two weeks 35 students and four staff members had tested positive for COVID.
The superintendent thanked board member Larry Roberts II, who is retiring after serving seven years on the board.
“He is very dedicated to the best interests for each and every child. He’s very civic-minded. He cares deeply for this community, for Wilmington,” said McCarty-Stewart.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.