COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of the school experience for kids.
Before they left for Spring Break in 2020, that one lunch lady who was always nice to them sent them off with a good slice of pizza. They waved goodbye to the custodian who always has music playing on his cart. Their regular bus driver dropped them off at the bus stop.
But when they returned in August, some of those faces weren't there to greet them.
School districts across the Coastal Bend are seeing a shortage in what some refer to as support, or auxiliary, staff.
They're jobs Ingleside ISD Director of Communications & Community Rebecca Taylor said tend to see a lot of turnover, and are difficult enough to fill during normal circumstances.
"I will say that the number (of vacancies) has increased since COVID has begun," she said.
The Education Service Center Region 2's jobs postings website and many individual Coastal Bend school districts all have jobs open for at least two of the three following jobs: custodian, bus driver and food-service worker.
It makes hiring difficult for everyone, Taylor said.
"I would say it’s harder (to find applicants) because all the surrounding school districts are fighting for the same pool of applicants, and wages are competitive, and so we’re having to deal with other districts that are able to offer more money," she said.
Even with offering competitive pay, Taylor said location also makes it difficult for districts such hers to find help.
"We’re doing what we can, yes, but still, it’s just very competitive as far as location, you know," she said. "People are getting jobs that are closer to where they live, or people are driving a little bit (farther) because they’re getting more money."
Missing that core staff creates a domino effect, which only stops when someone else steps up.
"We have a lot of people doing two jobs at once," she said. "We have a lot of staff members who don’t normally step into those positions step into those positions, just to make sure everything’s covered, so we’ve just really come together to make sure that everybody’s supported."
School districts as small as Taft, to the big ones such as CCISD, are all feeling the crunch. The American Federation of Teachers-Corpus Christi also represents support and auxiliary staff locally, and President Nancy Vera said it's not usualy for them to call in tears.
"They don’t know what to do," she said. "They're being asked to do four or five things at the same time and they can’t, possibly. It’s humanly impossible to do everything they’re being asked to do because of the shortage."
Taylor said Ingleside actively is trying to avoid burning out its staff, resorting to having directors help out in the cafeteria.
"Really, we don’t want our teachers or our auxiliary workers ever to feel like they’re not appreciated," she said. "And we don’t ever want to wear them out because they’ve all stepped up and done such a great job."
While the shortages haven't caused a breakdown in the way Ingleside operates, Taylor said, the district has had to be more patient with things such as bus routes taking longer.
"I will say that it slows down and it hinders our ability to get things done as quick as possible," she said.