An Ohio school district said it closed all its schools for a day because of staff shortages. About 5,000 students were affected.

·4 min read
A school bus drives past Pershing School in Orlando.
Schools across the US have been struggling to find staff.Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • An Ohio school district said it shut all nine of its schools on Monday because of understaffing.

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the closures were down to a lack of transportation staff.

  • Staff are "exhausted" after working during the pandemic, the district's superintendent said.

All nine schools in a district in north-east Ohio shut for the day on Monday because of understaffing.

The Stow-Munroe Falls City (SMF) School District covers six elementary schools, a high school, a middle school, and an intermediate school. As of May, the district had just over 5,000 students in total.

"All SMF Schools are closed today due to staff shortages throughout the district," SMF tweeted on Monday morning.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported the district as saying that the lack of staff related specifically to its transportation department. The district, which has 51 bus drivers, says that around 2,800 students – just over half its pupils – travel by school bus each day, including field trips and athletic events.

The US is suffering from a huge labor shortage as people leave their jobs for roles with better wages, benefits, and hours. Some people are also quitting their jobs because of burnout and fears of catching the coronavirus. Schools across the US have been struggling to find enough staff, including bus drivers, food-services staff, and teachers.

Earlier this month, some Denver school districts closed for a day due to understaffing.

SMF superintendent Tom Bratten told parents in an email Monday evening, viewed by Insider, that the understaffing was down to a combination of COVID-19, general illness, and a "severe lack of substitutes at all levels of our organization." He said teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and custodians had all been out sick.

"Closing our schools is something that none of us ever wants to do and we do not take it lightly," Bratten said, adding that it was a "very difficult last minute decision."

"When a particular department experiences many staff members out, it creates a ripple effect in a school district, much like it did this morning with a shortage of bus drivers," Bratten said in the email. "In a district our size, not having enough bus drivers would delay the travel to and from school by several hours each way causing an unmanageable situation for our buildings and families, which is why the unfortunate decision had to be made to cancel school."

Bratten said that the district's transportation department had been "battling a staffing shortage" all year.

"Our people in general have been asked to suck it up for two years, and honestly, they're exhausted," Bratten told The Journal. "They're worn out and they're run down and it's catching up to them because they have worked so hard over the last two years and have tried to do everything they can to come to work every single day."

On its website, the district says it is looking for staff to fill a range of roles, including substitute teachers, aides, bus drivers, cooks, and secretaries.

Wages for permanent bus driver positions start at $19.98 an hour and for substitute teacher roles at $17.98 an hour, the district says. SMF's bus fleet has more than 60 district-owned buses that cover over 100 routes.

In his email to parents Monday, Bratten said schools were set to be open Tuesday with normal bus routes.

School districts have been hiking up wages and offering sign-on bonuses to plug staff shortages. A district in Georgia that covers 112 schools raised substitute teacher pay from $89 to $189 a day and supply teacher pay from $112 to $212 a day.

Other schools across the US are employing unusual tactics to deal with staff shortages. A high school in Boston hired a party bus with a stripper pole after being unable to find any bus drivers, while an elementary school in Philadelphia bought pizza for 400 students after food-services staff didn't show up. A school district in Minnesota asked parents to volunteer at its cafeterias, and a district in Missouri is even hiring its own students.

Got a story about the labor shortage? Email this reporter at gdean@insider.com.

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