WACO, Texas — School districts are continuing to work to compete for a shrinking pool of staff as the work to recruit for next school year begins.
On Thursday, the Waco ISD Board of Trustees approved sign-on bonuses for certain positions.
Fully certified teachers, counselors and librarians hired by June 1 and police officers hired by August 1 will receive $5,000 with a two-year commitment.
Registered nurses hired by August 1 will receive $2,500 for a one-year commitment.
It comes as the district currently has about 70 open positions, expected to grow as the year comes to a close, according to assistant superintendent of human resources, Daniel Lopez.
Lopez said the district has also turned its attention to retaining the staff they already have by listening to their needs.
"They're the boots on the ground, right? We need to hear what they're saying so we can meet them where they are," Lopez said.
That sentiment is one that Bill Sterrett, professor and department chair of educational leadership for Baylor University's School of Education, believes will be critical for school districts moving forward.
"We can't wait until they leave and then ask you know, an exit interview question. We should constantly be listening and trying to support them," Sterrett said.
Sterrett also pointed to areport released Friday by the TEA's Teacher Vacancy Task Force. It highlights higher salaries, more training and better working conditions as necessary steps to resolve the state's teacher shortage.
The shortage has affected districts in different ways.
Copperas Cove ISD and Midway ISD report minimal staffing issues for teachers this school year. Midway, however, continues to struggle to hire other staff.
"We are blessed that we are pretty good to finish out this school year in terms of our teaching staff," said Traci Marlin, spokesperson for Midway ISD. "We are very much struggling in terms of bus drivers, custodians, substitutes and cafeteria workers."
Midway is still concerned about what the shortage will look like across all areas come next school year.
The district recently conducted a survey of staff to determine how to improve retention rates. Pay, burnout and behavioral issues are among the top concerns of educators.
Staffing has become such a concern in rural districts like Academy andChina Spring that they are turning to options like four-day school weeks.
Most Central Texas districts have not yet updated their salary schedules for the upcoming school years. Many, like Killeen ISD, are waiting to see what the outcome of this year's legislative session will mean in terms of funding.
Several districts are hosting job fairs in the coming weeks and months to recruit for next school year.
The following Saturday, March 4, Killeen ISD will host one as well.