School staff shortage very concerning

We read with great concern over the weekend that Alcona Community Schools had canceled Monday classes not because of bad weather or widespread illness, but because of a shortage of staff needed to run the district.

Certainly, illness could have contributed to the shortage. The state on Sept. 27 reported a coronavirus outbreak in Alcona schools (other recent outbreaks have been reported in Alpena and Rogers City schools).

Beyond the direct effect of infected students or employees, the overall labor pool in our communities and across the country has shrunk because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Illness has kept some employees away, while fear of illness has kept others at home and opposition to vaccine mandates have sent others away from work.

Still others have stayed away from work because of generous unemployment benefits (which have since expired) or federal coronavirus relief checks passed by Congress to save the economy from the pandemic.

More still haven’t gone job hunting because they can’t find child care.

An overall declining population also hurt Northeast Michigan’s pool of potential workers.

Alcona County lost 2% of its labor force between August 2019, pre-pandemic, and August 2021, the most recent month for which data is available from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.

Presque Isle County lost 1% of its labor force in that time, and Montmorency County lost 3%.

Alpena County actually grew its labor force by 1%, according to DTMB.

An employee shortage in any industry worries us, but it worries us doubly so in schools. The pandemic showed us not every kid can succeed in online classes. They need the social interaction and facetime with their teachers to learn as well as they can.

Policymakers at the state and local level have to figure out how to solve this problem.


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