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POWAY, Calif. – School districts across the U.S. are reporting staffing shortages due to a labor shortage spawned from the COVID-19 pandemic. In Poway, San Diego County’s third-largest district is urging parents step up to help meet demand.

In an email to district families Wednesday, the Poway Unified School District said the shortage has left numerous job openings unfilled “which is directly affecting our students’, staff’s, and families’ experience.”

The result has landed students on waitlists for buses, created long lunch lines that sometimes keep students from eating before returning to class and necessitated principals, assistant principals and counselors step into instructor roles due to a lack of substitute teachers, district spokesperson Christine Paik said.

“School districts are like mini-cities,” Paik said. “We need drivers, we need crossing guards, we need food and nutrition workers in the cafeteria.”

Paik said shortages have come as staffers left the district during the pandemic, either retiring or leaving their roles in favor of another industry.

As of this week, the district’s job site shows openings for a number of positions, including bus drivers, food and nutrition technicians, groundskeepers, office assistants and program aides, among others. Many of the available positions offer flexible or part-time schedule. Some do not require previous experience in a school setting, the district’s email shows.

Additionally, substitute teachers are being sought with roles paying $180 per day or $200 a day for long-term assignments. Applications for substitutes can be submitted on the district’s website.

“For the first time, Poway Unified has students on waitlists to get on a bus to go to and from school,” Paik said. “That’s leaving families — working families — scrambling to try to figure out how am I going to get my kid to and from school.”

The district’s email was sent to some 40,000 families asking for help in filling these critical positions. In the time since it went out, Paik said the district received 73 applications compared to the typical 10 to 20 it draws each day.

“If we don’t have people come through, I’m not sure I don’t know that we can sustain this type of operation,” she said.

Jose Baltodano has a sister in the district. He said his family is thinking about applying to show support. 

“Everybody has their own sort of play with the schools,” Baltodano said. “We all have to play a role.”