School districts in Aurora pressing hard to fill driver, classroom and other vacancies

School buses sit in wait Aug. 3, one week before the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Both Cherry Creek and APS school districts report they have numerous bus driver and other vacancies.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Just several weeks after the beginning of the school year, both Aurora Public Schools and the Cherry Creek school districts have dozens of job openings listed online for teaching positions, support staff and behind-the-scenes roles.

As of Friday, APS had 143 job postings listed online. Cherry Creek had a similar amount posted at the beginning of the week, but the number dipped to 49 by Friday.

In both districts, the majority of the listings are for paraeducators and special needs teachers.

APS has 14 job openings for paraeducators and 21 job openings for special education teachers. Cherry Creek at one point had listings for 75 paraeducators for students with moderate to severe needs in elementary, middle and high schools across the district.

Paraeducators work under the instruction of certified teachers to provide additional classroom support, either to individual students or larger groups.

Abbe Smith, a spokesperson for the district, said that Cherry Creek is experiencing a shortage of special education paraprofessionals that is ​​”significantly more than in previous years.”

The district held a job fair on Aug. 28 where it hired 47 paraprofessionals, she told the Sentinel in an email.

“Even with the 47 new hires coming on board, we are still short,” Smith said. “We are continuing to support the needs and obligations of students who receive special education services, however caseloads are high and we are having to hire substitutes to fill in gaps.”

The district is still looking to hire more paraprofessionals, she said. It also posted an article on its website encouraging people to join the transportation team.

“As of today, we are short 40 CDL (commercial driver’s license) drivers,” said Gary Thompson, Director of Transportation for Cherry Creek Schools, in the Sept. 1 post.

Kasey Ellis, president of the Cherry Creek Education Association, said that the postings could be a sign that more students have returned to in-person learning this school year than the district planned for. She has heard from a number of teachers in middle and high school that they have larger class sizes than they anticipated.

A shortage of paraeducators has been an ongoing issue for the district, Ellis said.

“We had a ‘para’ shortage last year, we had a ‘para’ shortage the year before,” she said.

It’s difficult for the district to hire paraeducators because it isn’t able to compete salary-wise with other places, she said. 

Cherry Creek paraeducator job listings start at $12.87 per hour and go up to $17.91 per hour for those working with severe needs students, with the majority offering an hourly wage of $15.52. APS listings did not include a price range.

The two districts are experiencing similar shortages. APS spokesperson Corey Christiansen said that the district is experiencing a shortage in some of our support positions such as bus drivers, custodians and paraeducators.”

“While hiring typically continues into the start of the school year, the extent of the vacancies this school year is higher than that of previous years,” he said in an email. “We have been able to cover all of our bus routes with the help of our two outside contractors, but are still looking to hire more internal candidates.” 

Aurora Education Association president Linnaea Reed-Ellis said that every unfilled position puts extra strain on the educators who are working in the district.

“Teachers are feeling the stress this year and when it comes to staffing,” she said. “…the burnout is very real.”

A potential educator staffing shortage has been a source of concern nationwide this school year. According to a June survey of National Education Association members, one third of respondents said they planned to leave the profession sooner than they originally planned because of the pandemic.

 Colorado Education Association president Amie Baca-Oehlert said that educator shortages have been a problem in Colorado long before the pandemic began of the state’s low teacher salaries. The increased workload and stress caused by COVID has just made the issue worse.

To truly fix the problem, Baca-Oehlert said the state would need to spend more money on education.

“Ultimately the greatest impact is on the students,” she said. “It’s the students that suffer when class sizes are too large or they don’t have transportation.”