By Conor McCue

BRIGHTON, Colo. (CBS4) – Weeks after students returned to in-person learning, some Colorado districts are struggling to fill openings in the classrooms, cafeterias, and other critical areas. Brighton 27J Schools is warning parents it may have to take drastic measures if things don’t change fast.

Currently, more than 70 jobs are listed on the 27J website, but Michael Clow, the district’s Chief Human Resource Officer, says the long list doesn’t tell the full story.

While the district has only posted one bus driver job and three nutritional services jobs, it could hire more than 20 of each as soon as tomorrow, Clow said.

(credit: CBS)

“Both departments are about 20% down in their workforce,” Clow said.

According to Clow, 27J could also hire as many as 40 substitute teachers to make up for the current shortage, but candidates aren’t applying for the few jobs already posted.

“I’ve been in the district 17 years,” he said. “Things come and go; the job market shifts. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Last week, superintendent Dr. Chris Fiedler sent an email to parents spelling out the dilemma. The district is currently short on childcare staff and bus drivers, as well as full time and substitute teachers.

The issue extends to the cafeteria too, where nationwide supply chain issues have compounded staffing shortages, leading to concerns about the ability to provide meals to students.

“We’re trying to balance and see if anything shifts for us, but certainly services could be impacted,” Clow said.

According to Fielder, that could include suspending meals, bus routes, and childcare services. Without more teachers and substitutes to maneuver absences caused by illness such as COVID-19, a return to remote learning for days or weeks each month could be possible too.

“We don’t want to be in this position, we don’t want our community to be in this position, but we really need help at this point,” Clow said.

Until that help comes, staff members are taking on extra roles to make do. In the transportation department, routers and mechanics are helping cover bus routes, and in the schools, some administrators are now covering classes.

“It’s a lot on our staff right now. They’re performing miracles every day; they really are our heroes.”

Clow said the current situation is not sustainable. 27J is now asking for parents, retirees, and community members to chip in, and if they can, the district is happy to pay for the work and any necessary training.

“If a parent is willing to substitute one day a week at their child’s school, that’s what they have to offer, we’ll take it,” he said. “We’ll help them get a sub license.”

Several other Colorado districts are facing similar issues. Earlier this month the Poudre School District told CBS4 staff shortages are having a negative impact on students. Last week, JeffCo Public Schools warned of food and nutrition services staffing shortages and supply chain issues in a community update sent to parents.

Conor McCue