Due to the current job market, many local employers are finding it challenging to fill positions. St. Michael-Albertville School District is no exception. Many staffing position changes were discussed at the St. Michael-Albertville School Board meeting Jan. 3 to help combat the lack of qualified applicants applying to unfilled positions.

The positions included adding a full-time special education teacher, extension of a COVID-19 health coordinator, approval for a float health assistant and the hiring of seven kitchen helper positions for a total of 21 hours per day. The board approved the hiring and extension of all discussed positions.

SPECIAL EDUCATION teacher

Dr. Amy Larkin, director of special services, spoke to the board about the proposal of reducing 2.5 special education paraprofessional positions and then adding one full-time special education teacher.

The full-time special education teacher would come to the school each day and float to each special education classroom as needed.

“We couldn’t get applicants for paraprofessional positions and special education positions after months and weeks,” Larkin said. “Then what this causes is some concern of being able to fulfill mandated IEP [individualized education program] minutes.”

The transition between replacing substitute special education teachers with a full-time teacher is cost neutral, according to Larkin.

She went on to explain that a full-time floater teacher position would also allow for the person to get to know the individual students’ needs more than a substitute teacher, while also making the position more desirable to applicants who want stable, full-time hours.

COVID-19 COORDINATOR/HEALTH ASSISTANT

The board also approved the extension of a COVID-19 health coordinator for the remainder of the school year and a full-time floater health assistant. Larkin also presented those proposals to the board.

The desire to extend the health coordinator position stems from the unprecedented staffing shortages and the inability to fill a licensed nurse position, according to Larkin. While the school district continues to search to fill the licensed nurse position, the coordinator will help with the continued high volumes the health offices are seeing in the district.

Continuing with the position would also be cheaper than the alternatives, which is outsourcing for a licensed nurse. The coordinator position can also be paid for through the COVID funds and from current budget savings that have been generated due to the vacancy of the existing nurse position.

Larkin then presented and the board approved the position of a float health assistant.

According to Larkin, the position had been in the discussion even before COVID-19 and staffing shortages. The position can allows a permanent staff person who can get to know the students’ health plans, versus having an ever-changing substitute pool that would fill the health assistant position.

KITCHEN HELPER POSITION

The last change discussed by the board was the addition of staff members to the schools’ kitchens.

Director of Food Services Joseph Happe asked for the school board to restore seven kitchen helper positions (21 hours per day in total) that were eliminated in the spring of 2021 to help save costs.

Due to the United States Department of Agriculture approving free breakfast and lunches for all students for the school year of 2021-22, it resulted in a participation increase of around 1,242 additional meals served per day by school kitchen staff.

“I’m here today to ask for those 21 hours per day back to just get us back to normal,” Happe said. “Our staff right now is just getting hammered.”

Happe explained that the additional workers would help get students through lines faster so they would have enough time to eat.

“It also helps kids educationally, because they’re not throwing food away at the end because they’re spending too much time in line waiting,” Board Member Hollee Saville added.

The funding will come from the food service budget, which is separate from the general fund. The money the school district receives from serving more meals than usual and this year’s higher reimbursement rates that they receive from the state results in an approximately $4,150 per day increase in funds.

The total cost to restore the 21 hours per day for the kitchen helper positions is approximately $535 per day.

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