ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – The Mehlville School District in south St. Louis County is one of many in our area struggling with a shortage of workers in important positions.
“Oh, my goodness. It’s been a pretty challenging thing to deal with since COVID, really. We’ve been running 80% or less staff than a lot of our support areas,” Superintendent Dr. Chris Gaines said. “Bus drivers, food service, custodians, we’re doing a little bit better than we were last year, but we’re still challenged, especially among our bus drivers and custodians.”
Gaines says the district is short 15 custodians, 13 bus drivers, and four nutrition services technicians. There’s even a shortage of some teaching positions. They had to outsource their groundskeeping with a $94,000 contract.
Bus drivers have also been forced to adapt.
“Well, for bus drivers, we’ve had to double-up on routes, so that’s making some routes longer,” Gaines said. “We’ve had to cancel or change up the format of field trips. Sometimes we just don’t have the drivers to do an activity trip.”
The superintendent says the district still has the keep facilities clean despite the shortage.
“It’s (fewer) custodians, so we’re working a lot of overtime and, unfortunately, not getting into the areas we’d like the clean like we’d like to. We’re still hitting the classrooms, but some of the peripheral areas, not getting where we would like to,” he said. “We’re still sanitary. We may just have a little dust bunny over in the corner that normally we would have gotten too, we’re not getting to right now.”
The superintendent says the answer is raising pay for workers. Mehlville has a tax measure on the ballot that would raise $6 million to do just that.
At first, it was known as Proposition M. However, the school board and the superintendent quickly had a change of heart about calling it that.
“Our board voted to put Proposition M on the ballot at 31-cents to enhance employees’ salaries. It turns out that a lot of municipalities in the county are running a Prop M for marijuana sales tax, so we didn’t want to be lined up with that,” Gaines said.
The ballot measure was changed to Proposition E for the upcoming April election.