OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Some school districts in the Kansas City area are relying on staffing companies to keep their doors open.
Educators say it's an incredibly challenging time to find substitute teachers.
One local staffing company is working to fill in the gaps.
Morgan Hunter is a corporate staffing and recruiting company in Overland Park. Currently, its education department, which is responsible for supplying schools with substitute teachers, is busier than ever.
Angela Hunt, program director for the education division, said her department is seeing a significant increase in demand for subs.
"When I compared this week to our busiest week, which was kind of in the middle of December, we had 60% more absences than we did back during that week and that’s with all of our districts combined," Hunt said.
Hunt said the company's subs range in age and occupation, and many of them simply want to help out their community.
"This year we’ve had a lot of people reaching out to us that have felt a need to help the schools because they hear about the sub shortage and they just want to help out in their community, they don’t want the schools to go virtual again and they want to be available to help out the teachers when they are gone," Hunt said.
Hunt said the company works to bring in highly-qualified people and interviews them as well as requires a 2.5 hour training before they enter a classroom.
One of the districts Morgan Hunter partners with is the Bonner Springs Edwardsville Unified School District.
The district announced Wednesday it would close school Thursday and Friday due to a surge of illnesses in the district. On Wednesday, officials said nearly 25% of students were out sick.
Superintendent Dan Brungardt said the surge in illnesses is likely due to COVID-19, the flu and step throat.
"This is probably my 30th year of being a school administrator and through time people forget that we’ve had some big outbreaks of flu, and at times I’ve had to close a classroom and even once close an elementary school for a short period of time for everybody to go home and get well," Brungardt said.
However, the district has not had to close its doors due to staffing shortages thanks to Morgan Hunter and other teachers stepping up to cover.
Brungardt said the district has been working with the company for the last few years and has seen an uptick recently in needing subs.
"What benefits us the most is the larger pool of substitutes they have because they reach across the metro," Brungardt said.
Mike Nevels began working as a sub with Morgan Hunter two years ago after retiring from his previous job he had been at for 35 years.
"Whereas in corporate America I think you're doing a lot for yourself and a lot for stockholders, here it's probably more of a worthy cause and that's helping the kids and giving back so I've enjoyed it," Nevels said.
Nevels said he enjoys the flexibility the job provides.
While he doesn't have to work everyday, he chooses to work five days a week at an elementary school in Lawrence where he is a building sub. He echos other educators who say keeping the doors open to schools is an all-hands-on-deck approach right now.
Even with Morgan Hunter's staff, Brungardt said many of his teachers will give up their prep periods to fill in for other classrooms. They, along with other staff, are the backbone of school districts.
"The only reason schools are open right now is the people who come in and do our food service in the morning and the people driving our buses and our teachers, so if you can do a shout out to them that would be great," Brungardt said.