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Workforce strain means Duluth school administrators subbing in classroom, possible bus route interruptions

Superintendent John Magas has filled in as substitute teacher and paraprofessional, he said.

School Bus Stop Arm.jpg
The Duluth School District warned a shortage of drivers compounded by COVID-19 could cause interruptions to bus routes.
Tyler Schank / 2019 file / News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Duluth School District’s office employees are substitute teaching and the district is warning of possible bus route cancellations as the latest wave of COVID-19 infections worsens the existing strain on the workforce.

John Magas
John Magas

Superintendent John Magas told the News Tribune the past few weeks have been “the most challenging time in staffing that I’ve seen in 30 years in education.”

The impact has been particularly felt among bus drivers, paraprofessionals and substitute teachers across the district, Magas said.

“There’s no margin, and so when we lose people to illness, or quarantine or things like that, it does place a pretty big impact on an already strained system,” Magas said.

In a letter to district families Friday afternoon , the district said it could end up canceling bus routes if drivers aren’t available, advising parents to have a back-up plan in case a route is canceled.

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“School bus driver shortages and rising COVID rates make it possible this school year that there may be days where a school bus route must be canceled at the last minute,” the district said. 

Information on the notification procedure, which will be announced the night before or between 5 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. the day of), is outlined at www.smore.com/x5bjq .

Magas said mechanics, supervisors and others in transportation have taken up routes. He said the district easily needs 20 additional drivers.

Inside the school buildings, Magas himself has stepped in to sub for paraprofessionals and teachers.

And he’s encouraging more people to apply to be substitute teachers.

“Even if they look at it as a service to the community as much as a job opportunity,” Magas said.

Last week, the district warned parents to brace for remote learning and said it would consider multiple criteria in making a decision, including positivity rates inside the schools, and the ability to fully staff schools and, in particular, crisis-level instructors.

But the school district has not been forced to go remote yet, and Magas is hopeful it stays that way as the omicron wave of infection seems to be declining in parts of the country.

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“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to weather the storm,” Magas said.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDULUTH PUBLIC SCHOOLSDULUTH SCHOOL BOARD
Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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