Scores of job seekers converged on a job fair at the Evergreen Public Schools office on Wednesday, hoping to snag one of the more than 300 job openings.
As the event came to a close, Gail Spolar, spokeswoman for the district, said it was a big success.
“We’ve been hiring all summer, but it’s a very tight job market,” she said. “And when you add in background checks, things like fingerprinting, people might not know all these requirements, so we’re making it as streamlined as possible.”
There’s been a slight increase in vacancies this year, but nothing too far out of the ordinary, Spolar said.
Sixty people pre-registered for the event, the maximum allowable in light of COVID restrictions.
Brie Jones of Vancouver said she just wanted to “see what they’ve got,” as did Sebastian Moore.
Elizabeth Jacobs said she taught third and fifth grades in Seattle and moved here after her husband’s employer transferred him.
“I’ve applied everywhere but didn’t get hired, so I’m hoping to get hired as a substitute,” she said.
With 3,300 employees, the district oversees 38 schools: six high schools, six middle schools, 22 elementary schools and four specialty schools. Job openings cover a wide range, from head gymnastic coach to history teacher to playground monitor. Other openings are for assistant volleyball coach, cafeteria monitor, traffic safety monitor, and head coaches for boys and girls soccer.
Matt Hill, senior director of special services for the department that handles special education, said about 150 of the available jobs are in special ed.
“Paraeducators work with students who have special needs,” Spolar said. “It could be cognitive or behavioral issues or reading and working or language skills, or it could be that (students) speak a different language.”
Scott Incardona, who worked for the Social Security Administration for more than 20 years, hopes to be hired as a paraeducator in special education, where he has experience.
“And eventually, I really want to get my teaching certificate,” he said, which is not required for paraeducators.
For Lisa Guttormsen, who was hoping to get hired as a quarantine room monitor, the job fair was a huge disappointment. After about five minutes, she came back outside in tears, because although she had applied for the job online, she failed to pre-register for the job fair and could not participate.
“I’m just going to go home and pray,” Guttormsen said.
Strict COVID-19 safety measures were in place, including not allowing news media inside the event.
Although state mandates require all public school employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Spolar said it’s too soon to know what effect that will have on employment because the deadline for compliance isn’t until Oct. 18.
Job fair applicants were asked about their vaccination status as well as other requirements, Spolar said, including fingerprinting and background checks. She said interest was brisk in spite of the pandemic.
Vancouver Public Schools, which also has 37 schools and 3,300 employees, lists a little over 200 job openings on its website, including assistant volleyball coach, one-on-one Braille assistant, special education paraeducator, head cheer coach, cafeteria monitor, traffic safety monitor, and head coaches for boys and girls soccer. The district is not planning a job fair this year, said spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo, although it has in the past.
With 7,235 students and 19 schools, the Camas School District’s biggest job opening is for a new superintendent. A nationwide search will begin Oct. 1, with a selection made by mid-December.
The Washougal School District, with eight schools, has several teaching and substitute job openings and is looking for substitute bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, grounds and maintenance employees, and head coaches for boys soccer and girls tennis.
Battle Ground Public Schools has 1,496 employees and 86 openings in certified, classified and coaching, according to spokeswoman Rita Sanders.
Pandemic affected pay
The pandemic’s effects range wider than just requiring masks and vaccinations. It also may have affected teacher salaries, according to an April 26 report in Education Week, but in a good way.
“The National Education Association estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2020-21 school year is $65,090 — a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year,” the article states. “It also projects that states’ average spending per student, largely dictated by teachers’ salaries, increased nearly 5 percent to $14,243 this school year.”
NEA President Becky Pringle noted in the article that teacher activism over the past three years has resulted in several states raising teachers’ salaries. The pandemic has given the public a better appreciation for public education employees, she added.
But it’s still not enough, Pringle said: While the pandemic may have changed public education, better pay is needed.
“We are still in a funding hole that was dug decades ago,” she said. “And as unprecedented inflation looms from our current economic crisis, the country can’t afford to take its foot off the pedal of progress.”
According to the NEA’s website at nea.org, average starting salary for teachers in the 2019-20 school year was $41,163, an increase of 2.5 percent, the largest annual increase in starting pay since before the most recent recession.
“With looming economic uncertainty, educator activists are fighting to prevent a repeat of the disastrous budget cuts inflicted by lawmakers on public schools in the wake of the Great Recession more than a decade ago,” the website states.
Salaries will go up for Evergreen school employees, Spolar said, but not because of national trends. It’s because all employees are union members, she said.
“It’s all part of the collective bargaining agreement in place that wages increase every year as agreed on,” Spolar said.