Teacher shortage to get worse for rural schools

JUDA, Wis. — Speech and Language Therapist Tanya Lawson decided to cut her maternity leave short because there was no one to fill her position.  Lawson says it was her decision to make and wasn’t forced by the Juda School District.  Rural Wisconsin schools have been facing a shortage of teachers and support staff and it’s about to get worse.

To manage the staffing shortage, it’s common for districts to share services.  Staff are working for multiple districts to cover needs. Lawson works in Juda and Monticello. Her students were a major factor in her decision to return early for the start of the school year.

“It was hard, I had a lot of conversations with my husband about it.”  “If I wasn’t going to (return) then (my students) weren’t going to get services.  Then you think about my higher needs kiddos, my non verbal kids, if they weren’t going to get therapy, what does that look like for them?” says Lawson.

Juda district leaders said they ran out of options to fill Lawson’s absence.

“We advertised in so many places, reached out to companies who would support you and no one could find anyone.” says Traci David, Juda Superintendent.  “I had to work through out Department of Public Instruction to say ‘what do we do if we can’t find someone?, there’s simply no one to be found,” she said.

A new poll from the Wisconsin Rural School Alliance shows a current average of two staff openings per district.  Responses show it will get worse.  Projected average openings for ’22/’23 will increase to 4.4 per district.

“I hope eventually people will come to realize the crisis we’re in right now with the teacher shortage,” says WRSA Executive Direcotr Kim Kaukl.  “For a while there it was just the retirement, but now we’re starting to see more young people leaving the profession, leaving earlier,” Kaukl says.

There’s a solution that small Wisconsin towns may not want to hear: consolidation.

“I think shared services has allowed a lot of districts not to have to consolidate.  Unfortunately, if things keep going the way they are, we may see that,” says Kaukl.