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Oxford, Lafayette Schools Join State in Employment Woes

By Alyssa Schnugg
Staff Writer

With some Mississippi schools struggling to find enough teachers and support staff before school starts in August, Oxford and Lafayette County school superintendents said they, too, often struggle to find math and science teachers and bus drivers.

Mississippi public schools are looking for more than 2,100 employees, with the Gulf Coast school districts having the toughest time in filling positions.
The Associated Press reports that the 30 districts in northeast Mississippi have fewer job openings on average than districts elsewhere in the state.
Lafayette County School District Superintendent Adam Pugh said it’s becoming “extremely difficult” to find math and science teachers and bus drivers.
“People just don’t want to drive buses anymore,” he said. “We’re always taking applications for bus drivers. Right now, we have our routes filled but it’s not even July yet. I expect some to back out so we like to have applications on file.”
Oxford School District Superintendent Brian Harvey said his district has similar problems finding enough bus drivers.
“Bus drivers are always a challenge,” he said. “People don’t drive school buses for the hourly pay. They do it for the benefits. The schedule is difficult for a lot of people.”
Harvey said OSD also takes applications for bus drivers year round.
“It’s a pressing need here and around the nation,” he said. “We’re trying to battle the problem by reducing the number of drivers we need and making sure our routes are efficient and that we don’t have buses only half full of students.”
When it comes to teachers, both superintendents say it’s finding math and science teachers that’s the biggest challenge.
“We try to identify those posts as early as we can,” Harvey said. “Family situations change, people move, so we try to get people under contract as quickly as we can once the position has been identified.”
The National Education Association found that the average starting salary for teachers in Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree was $34,780 in 2016-2017. That was $3,837 below the national average. Each district can elect to give teachers supplements on top of the base salary, which can range from $500 to $5,000 a year around the state.
The OSD provides a $2,762 supplement and Lafayette provides a $1,042 supplement.
Pugh said the shortage is partly due to college graduates looking at other job opportunities where they can make more money.
“They don’t have the responsibilities teachers have, like worrying if a student doesn’t do well on a state test that means they aren’t a good teacher,” he said. “When you’re an educator, you’re taking your work home every night. We know what we got into and we love it.
“We’re dealing with the most prized possessions that parents have and that’s a huge responsibility. People in math and science-related fields can make a lot more money in other fields without that responsibility.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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