Education

DPS Is Short 150 Teachers Days Before School Starts

Bruce Randolph School, at 3955 Steele Street, is among three locations for Denver Public Schools job fairs on August 18.
Bruce Randolph School, at 3955 Steele Street, is among three locations for Denver Public Schools job fairs on August 18. Google Maps
The 2022-2023 academic year for Denver Public Schools will get underway on Monday, August 22. But less than a week before the big day, hundreds of staff jobs remain unfilled — including approximately 150 teaching positions.

DPS hopes to address this shortfall by way of three hiring fairs scheduled for tomorrow, August 18. But despite heavy competition from other districts in the metro area, which had more than 2,000 open jobs as of last week, DPS director of external communication Scott Pribble doesn't sound panicky. After all, he says, the situation is far from unprecedented.

"When it comes to teachers, we are on par with where we are typically at this time of year," Pribble notes. "Even pre-pandemic, we usually weren't at 100 percent. We would always have a few positions we would fill when we rolled into the beginning of the school year."

While 150 openings might seem like a lot, Pribble suggests otherwise. "Our teacher fill-rate is now just shy of 90 percent across the district," he reveals. "And if you spread out 150 positions over more than 200 schools" — the actual total is 207, serving around 90,000 students — "that's less than one teacher per building. For the most part, schools have zero teacher openings, but some schools may have one or two."

Nationwide, many veteran teachers have left the profession over recent years, and Pribble acknowledges that DPS wasn't immune. "Things may have stabilized," he says. "During the pandemic and immediately following, we did see some of that, where teachers were choosing other careers. But we haven't seen as much of that in the past six months or so. There still may be some people considering it, but they haven't made that move yet — and we have a large number of teachers coming in from colleges and universities. They don't have the experience a teacher who has been teaching for ten years has, but they're still passionate about education and they have the training. They've been able to fill the roles as they've come open."

Pribble doesn't have an estimate for job openings at DPS across all categories, since "it's such a moving target," he says, but notes that the most recent numbers available show about 275 openings for paraprofessionals and forty for bus drivers. He's optimistic that DPS will find people for these gigs in part because "we reached agreement with several labor groups over the summer and will be able to offer substantial pay raises to bus drivers, mechanics, paraprofessionals, special-education paraprofessionals, food-service workers and others. They'll all be getting a bump in their salaries, and some of them are quite substantial. We anticipate that will help us in our recruiting efforts moving forward."

If DPS isn't able to hire the full slate of bus drivers by Monday, "some of our transportation staff may jump into those roles" on an interim basis, Pribble says. But he thinks it's unlikely that district administrators will be pressed into duty to oversee classrooms until enough teachers are brought aboard, he adds: "We anticipate that the openings we do have when we get to day one can be filled with what we call 'guest teachers' — what other districts may call substitute teachers. Some teachers may not want a full-time position, but they can fill a position until someone is hired full-time."

In the meantime, Pribble rushes to reassure parents and guardians concerned that the quality of instruction at DPS could be compromised by all of the open teaching positions. "Because we're in a situation that we are used to being in, we know how to manage it to get the right people in place while we continue to work to fill these roles with permanent teachers," he says. "We feel like we're prepared and that we will see little to no impact on the education of our students in Denver Public Schools because of the hiring shortages we're dealing with right now."

The DPS hiring fairs will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. August 18 at three locations: Bruce Randolph School, 3955 Steele Street; Northeast Bus Terminal, 4937 Dallas Street; and the DPS Training Center, 2700 West Seventh Avenue. According to the district, pay for special-education paraprofessionals starts at $21 per hour, and at $24.40 per hour for bus drivers. Click for more information and to register.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts