Bozeman School District revises mask policy, hopes for more “normal” year

The Willson School administrative building on Main Street in downtown Bozeman.

BOZEMAN, Mont. – A staffing shortage of substitute teachers mixed with COVID concerns and full-time teachers calling out sick is affecting some of the biggest school districts in Montana.

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year in September, human resource directors at some of the biggest school districts across the state from Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula, Helena and Great Falls said they are still in search of filling positions.

Still the most common needs at these school districts continues to be substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, school lunch workers, custodians and in some schools bus drivers.

Both Bozeman Public Schools and Missoula County Public Schools offered signing bonuses and retention bonuses.

Bozeman Public Schools Human Resource Director Pat Strauss said they paid out approximately 20 hiring bonuses through Dec. 31, 2021, for special education paraprofessionals, custodians, food service employees and substitute teachers.

The Bozeman School District advertised $250 signing bonuses and an additional $250 bonus for successful employment after six months while substitute teachers would receive an additional $500 bonus for successful completion of 60 days of substitute work.

On Jan. 3, 2022, after returning from holiday break, Strauss said they were still short about 12 paraprofessionals in the district and had approximately 30 teachers call out sick.

Strauss said their ability to cover those absences is affected by a shortage of available substitutes as well and that they continue to hire and orient new substitute teachers weekly.

Bozeman School District Interim Superintendent Casey Bertram sent a letter out to families at the start of holiday break removing the masking requirement at the high school grade band only after six weeks of declining COVID-19 transmission at the high school grade band.

Bertram said in the letter, “If we experience a large influx of active COVID-19 cases at the high school grade band over winter break the decision to rescind the masking requirement may be revisited.”

The BSD7 COVID Advisory Task Force will meet on Jan. 7 to discuss masking requirements at the middle school and elementary grade band.

In September of 2021, Missoula County Public Schools Human Resource and Labor Relations Executive Director David Rott said they looked to hire around 30 open hourly positions with retention incentives of $250 for part-time and $500 for full-time workers.

You can find a list of job needs from school districts in Billings, Butte, Great Falls and Helena at this link.

All school districts said full-time teacher positions were not a concern and each say they can still function not being fully staffed, but the risk of burn out with current full-time teachers is a concern.

When asked about challenges with hiring in their respective areas, both the Bozeman School District and Missoula County Public Schools gave examples of potential candidates for employment who couldn’t afford to live within city limits and mentioned the challenge of competitive wages advertised by national fast-food chains and other business around town.

News For You