A shortage of support staff has encouraged Grapevine-Colleyville and Carroll ISDs to continuously seek solutions to remain competitive in the job market.

Both school districts have seen an increase in vacancies in departments such as special education, transportation, custodial and child nutrition since the start of the 2021-22 school year.

As of Nov. 3, Carroll ISD has more than 40 total job openings, according to the district’s job portal. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD has 90 auxiliary and paraprofessional positions vacancies, according to Kristin Snively, executive director of communications for GCISD.

“We always run a little short in some of those support positions, but not to this level,” said Gordon Butler, Carroll ISD assistant superintendent of staff and student services.

Administrators in CISD and GCISD said public school districts are competing for employees in both the private and public sectors—a trend that is also seen nationwide, according to Steven Poole, executive director of United Educators Association, a local association for educational employees in North Texas.

“[School districts are] having to compete not only with other school districts, but with the private sector. And with private companies upping their pay and benefits for those kinds of employees, it's awfully attractive to leave a school district and go work somewhere else,” Poole said.

To compete, the CISD and GCISD boards of trustees have approved pay raises for support staff.

On Sept. 27, Carroll ISD trustees approved additional compensation for their paraprofessional and auxiliary staff. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD trustees also approved a pay increase between 6.1% and 12.5% for auxiliary and instructional positions on Oct. 25.

“Our [staff] shortages are impacting our campuses and our district locations on how we serve children,” said Gema Padgett, GCISD executive director of human resources, at the Oct. 25 meeting. “Our hourly pay is the lowest in our surrounding areas.”

According to the Texas Education Agency, the average salary for support staff during the 2020-21 school year in GCISD was $71,467 and $29,002 for auxiliary staff. In CISD, the average salary for support staff was $73,563 and $31,028 for auxiliary staff.

Support staff includes roles such as guidance counselors, nurses and special education aides while auxiliary staff includes bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria staff.

Attractive benefits—such as health and dental insurance—have encouraged staff to also seek employment elsewhere, Poole said.

“The health insurance most school districts offer through the [Teacher Retirement System]—that is unaffordable for most of them,” he said. “So, if you're trying to cover your family for health insurance working for a school district, it's almost impossible. So if you're going to a private company that's paying for your health insurance ... man, that makes a world of difference there, too.”

The shortage of support staff has forced the districts to find alternative ways—beyond additional compensation and benefits—to provide services to students while continuing to fill vacancies. In Carroll ISD, administrators and coaches with a commercial driver's license are driving buses to shuttle students to and from campus and events.

“For example, on the transportation side, to get a CDL right now, it's about a two-month process to get into [the Department of Public Safety]—and so our hope is to be able to get drivers that already have their CDL from other districts to come and work in Carroll [ISD],” Butler said.

Butler also mentioned developments in COVID-19 vaccines for younger children will help ease health and safety concerns in elementary schools, not only in Carroll ISD but across public schools.

Pzifer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 is now available.

“The hope that I think we all have, and not just Carroll but all districts, is that as that vaccine becomes available for younger students, that we will get more people to apply and take those jobs that impact our elementary schools,” Butler said.