2016-09-30 / Front Page

Schools recruiting for open jobs

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The downside of Maine’s low unemployment rate – measured at 4.0 percent in August – is the limited pool of applicants that portends for open jobs. It’s a worker shortage that’s particularly troubling at what is one of, if not the largest employer in most municipalities – the public school system.

To help churn interest, South Portland is joining three other school departments – Scarborough, Westbrook and Gorham – to stage a regional job fair, in hopes of landing applicants for substitute teacher positions, as well as bus drivers, custodians, substitute nurses and food service workers.

According to South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin, the city need is particularly acute for qualified bus drivers.

“We have days where we can’t send field trips because we don’t have drivers,” he said. “We have athletic events were we have to prioritize the Maine Principals Association events and, so, a middle school event may not go. We’re doubling up and drivers and are sometimes late on bus runs and, so, kids get to school late.”

Meanwhile, he said, the need for substitute teachers is “all across the board, including in special education,” in terms of grade levels, with days where no substitute can be found for a particular class occurring “all the time.”

“It’s an interesting challenge, and I really think it’s just a reflection of the economy right now, that people are not knocking down our door to apply for these positions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani said these jobs are “an excellent way to get your foot in the door,” with the school department. Substitute teaching, she said, makes an excellent dry run for anyone considering a career in education.

According to Germani, the upcoming job fair is designed to be a “one-stop shop” for people interested in school jobs, allowing them to get assistance in filling out applications, sit though a brief interview process, attend required trainings and sign up for fingerprinting required of all pubic school employees.

The job screenings will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, on the Husson University campus in Westbrook. Applicants should bring a resume, a list of references, college transcripts (60 credit hours are required to be a substitute teacher), and two forms of identification, including a driver’s license. There also is a combined $70 fee for the fingerprinting and background check application.

“This is kind of a pilot program and people are really watching to see how well we do,” Germani said. “We’d love to get 80 people walk though the doors that day. If I could put 80 people on my roster, I’d be very happy.”

Germani said she is currently “cutting it close” with about 50 people in her pool of potential substitute teachers to call each morning.

“I’d really rather have 100 people in my pool,” she said. “On any given day, especially during the winter time, we may been between 25 and 30 people to fill in different positions in the district due to illness, and we’re having problems tying to do that.”

According to Germani, the four districts sponsoring the job fair have developed a common application that will allow them to share workers, so that an applicant could score work hours in any or all locations.

“We all promised we would be nice and share,” she said.

Results of the job fair will be reported back to the Cumberland County’s Superintendent’s Association, which could lead to other districts adopting similar outreach efforts. Currently, most school districts use traditional means of advertising for open jobs. South Portland relies heavily on the website schoolspring.com, making the job fair an out-of-the-box approach.

Although the primary need is for part-time staff, Germani said some districts still have full-time slots to fill, particularly among qualified bus drivers.

According to a wage survey, school districts at the fair pay between $80 to $85 per day for substitute teachers and educational technicians, and $25 per hour for substitute nurses. Other positions average $16 per hour, Germani said.

“We’re really looking for people who have some experience working with kids, whether it’s in the (recreation) department or coaching, or with a church group or afterschool activity,” Germani said. “Some solid experience with kids is always really helpful.”

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