Fremont City Schools feeling pinch of workforce shortage

·5 min read
Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, visited Croghan Elementary School's cafeteria Nov. 19 and spoke to Fremont City Schools' administrators and staff members about the workforce shortage the school district faces with its lack of substitute bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other personnel. Click worked in Croghan Elementary's food line for part of the day.
Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, visited Croghan Elementary School's cafeteria Nov. 19 and spoke to Fremont City Schools' administrators and staff members about the workforce shortage the school district faces with its lack of substitute bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other personnel. Click worked in Croghan Elementary's food line for part of the day.

FREMONT — Her bus route starts along Hayes Avenue, snakes by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums, then darts over to Cole Road.

C. J. Swain knows the route well.

She's been driving a bus at Fremont City Schools for 25 years.

There's never been a driver shortage like the one she's seen this year.

The week before, FCS Superintendent Jon Detwiler got called four days in a row to fill in as a substitute bus driver because the district had no one else available on its sub list.

"It's not bad on me. It's bad on my boss, the mechanics, the subs," Swain said, as she talked with Detwiler and Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, minutes before students started piling into her bus behind Fremont Middle School.

C. J. Swain, a longtime Fremont City Schools bus driver, waits for students to arrive on her bus Nov. 19. Swain has been driving a bus for the school district for 25 years. She said she's never seen a shortage of substitute bus drivers like she's seen this year.
C. J. Swain, a longtime Fremont City Schools bus driver, waits for students to arrive on her bus Nov. 19. Swain has been driving a bus for the school district for 25 years. She said she's never seen a shortage of substitute bus drivers like she's seen this year.

For Swain, 72, this is her last year as a FCS bus driver.

Her retirement next school year will leave one more gaping support staff hole at FCS, as the district continues to struggle filling positions and finding substitute bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians.

Fremont City Schools' struggle to find workers is real and mirrors those of area businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It means Detwiler, building principals, teachers and support staff wear even more hats as they try to fill gaps and cover shifts.

Detwiler said, pre-COVID, the school district would be 100% covered staffing-wise most days.

For September, FCS averaged 11 unfilled positions a day, October was 13 and November is back to 11.

The superintendent said in October, the district was unable to fill 41% of its daily staff absences, or a 59% fill rate.

"The teachers are asked to help cover classes which takes away from their own planning time," Detwiler said. "The support staff (cooks, custodians, aides) are just asked to do the best they can. I had to drive a bus for four days in a row due to a lack of drivers. We anticipate not being able to cover all of the routes this winter which will mean extreme delays for some routes."

A row of Fremont City Schools' buses wait outside Lutz Elementary School for students Nov. 19. Superintendent Jon Detwiler is still having problems finding substitute drivers, as FCS and other school districts continue to struggle with workforce shortages.
A row of Fremont City Schools' buses wait outside Lutz Elementary School for students Nov. 19. Superintendent Jon Detwiler is still having problems finding substitute drivers, as FCS and other school districts continue to struggle with workforce shortages.

FCS struggles to fill gaps as support staff, subs hard to find

That struggle extends to the kitchen at Croghan Elementary School, where cafeteria manager Dana Filliater filled rows of small vegetable boxes Nov. 19 ahead of the school's lunch periods

Fridays are pizza and fresh veggies days at Croghan, and Filliater, Pat Smith and the rest of the kitchen crew methodically went through their prep work about 30 minutes before the first students showed up for lunch.

Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, puts on disposable gloves Nov. 19 before he helps out in the lunch line at Croghan Elementary School in Fremont. Click visited the school at Superintendent Jon Detwiler's invitation to put a spotlight on the district's lingering workforce shortages.
Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, puts on disposable gloves Nov. 19 before he helps out in the lunch line at Croghan Elementary School in Fremont. Click visited the school at Superintendent Jon Detwiler's invitation to put a spotlight on the district's lingering workforce shortages.

They had extra help for a couple of lunch periods, as Click showed up to lend a hand, putting a spotlight on the district's workforce shortages and listening to administrators and staff.

For most days during the fall semester, Croghan's kitchen staff has been shorthanded.

"We could not get subs," Filliater said.

That's held true across all of the district's buildings, said Filliater, a staff union vice president, with a shortage of other staff positions such as custodians.

Filliater said the Croghan kitchen crew just became fully staffed around the second week of November.

Detwiler said there are about 30 bus drivers in the district.

A lack of depth and sub list is the biggest issue as far as the FCS transportation department.

It's a little worse on the morning routes compared to afternoons, Detwiler said.

He cited the example of one FCS substitute bus driver that works full-time at Whirlpool and is free to sub periodically in the afternoon.

Of the four days Detwiler subbed the previous week, two were on morning routes.

All of the school districts in Click's 88th Ohio House district, which spans all of Sandusky County and parts of Seneca County, are hurting for workers, Click said.

The legislator said there were a lot of good employment opportunities available at FCS and other school districts for community members wanting to make a difference.

"There's a lot of joy that comes from working with young people," Click said.

Click pitches in at Croghan, puts spotlight on worker shortage

After he put on his disposable gloves, Click got a quick tutorial from Croghan's kitchen staff on what he needed to do on the food line.

Students started streaming through the line.

Click bantered with the elementary school students, asking them their ages, what they liked about school and vacation trips as he moved their food trays down the line.

He joined Detwiler and Swain later in the afternoon on Swain's bus, which normally can hold up to 38 students but had several empty seats.

Detwiler said training for a new bus driver, whether as a regular driver or a sub, takes about three months.

Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, listens as Dana Filliater, Croghan Elementary School's cafeteria manager, speaks Nov. 19 as she prepares food before lunch. Click visited the school and Fremont Middle School as part of an effort to shine a spotlight on workforce shortages at Fremont City Schools.
Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, listens as Dana Filliater, Croghan Elementary School's cafeteria manager, speaks Nov. 19 as she prepares food before lunch. Click visited the school and Fremont Middle School as part of an effort to shine a spotlight on workforce shortages at Fremont City Schools.

That includes supervised driving, a class and a driving test.

Detwiler has been licensed for seven years.

He said he and Tom Anway, the district's director of facilities and operations, are the only FCS administrators he's aware of that are licensed to drive a bus.

While Detwiler acknowledged he's not always primed to get an early morning sub call, the FCS superintendent said the days he drives a bus does give him an opportunity to get to know some students a little better as he drives to or from school.

If COVID numbers dropped considerably and there wasn't a lingering pandemic, that would help a lot, Detwiler said.

The virus' impact can be seen on the district's buses, where all drivers and passengers are still federally mandated to wear masks.

Swain's first passenger of the day, Joey, settled into his seat as she briefly talked about her path to being a FCS bus driver.

She drove a semi-dump truck before she started at FCS as a driver in her late 40s.

At first, she wasn't sure bus driving was for her, or the thought of possibly dealing with the occasional unruly student.

"I didn't want to drive a bus. Driving a truck, the load doesn't give you any problems," Swain joked.

She's grown to love her job as a bus driver, though, and will miss being around her regular passengers.

For now, Detwiler would like to see more people like Swain apply with the district.

He said a lot of the district's bus drivers are retirees who came back into the workforce after long careers in other fields.

dacarson@gannett.com

419-334-1046

Twitter: @DanielCarson7

This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Fremont City Schools feeling pinch of workforce shortage

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting