Staff Shortage

Like districts around the nation, SMSD lacks the cafeteria workers and bus drivers needed to keep schools running smoothly


Evan Johnson

As the only cashier in this lunch line, Judy Maxon works to check students out as quickly as possible.. The food services staff has been experiencing a shortage of workers since students returned to the building during the pandemic. “Some days it’s a little more challenging getting started in the mornings or getting lunch on time,” Maxon said. “We’re working as fast as we can go, [but we’re] short-handed.”

Veronica Meiss

Since COVID-19, school districts across the country have a declining availability of non-certified staff members. The Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) is no different. Field trips being cancelled due to a lack of bus drivers and waiting 15 minutes in a lunch line just to get food and then check out are examples of the direct impact of the shortage of staff on students.

Due to the shortage of bus drivers, field trips cannot leave schools until 8:45 .am., after morning routes have been run and must return by 2 p.m. to allow the drivers to pick up students after school on time. Some field trips have been cancelled or rearranged due to these requirements.

“For our Tall Oaks field trip, we pushed back our arrival time at the camp,” journalism teacher Susan Massy said. “Buses could not pick us up at the time we requested because there were no drivers who weren’t running morning routes. That was my first experience with the shortage of drivers.”

That was in August. In September,  Massy canceled a field trip because the restrictions would have forced the group to arrive late and leave early.

“Since we weren’t able to leave until 8:45 a.m. , we wouldn’t have arrived until the opening to the conference had ended and the first session had begun,” Massy said. “We would have had to leave early, missing the last session. I cancelled the trip and feel bad that my students didn’t get to have that experience.”

The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) did a survey in August 2021 to determine the status of the nationwide bus driver shortage. In the survey, 51% of the participants said their bus driver shortage was severe. 77% of participants in the Midwest said they have altered transportation service due to COVID-19.

“Filling busing positions has been something our district has worked really on,” principal Lisa Gruman said. “I know that in food service, there are needs in different pockets in the district.”

Waiting in line, junior Dylan Paflas shows junior Alanna Nasby his phone Oct. 6 in the cafeteria. With fewer lunch periods and only one cashier per lunch line, students are forced to wait in longer lines to check out. “My classrooms are far from the lunchroom so I’m usually one of the last ,” Paflas said. (Kara Simpson)

NW’s food service department faces staff shortages as well. With only one cashier per lunch line, the wait to get food is much longer.

“Everything is just nonstop running,” kitchen manager Mike Shepherd said. “There have been days that we haven’t made everything that’s been on the menu just because we physically don’t have the time.”

With all of his attention devoted to the lunch lines, Shepherd hasn’t had enough time to work on his other responsibilities.

“I love doing my paperwork and there are days I can’t do that now,” Shepherd said. “I hate going home with that paperwork above my head.”

Several students have been forced to wait 10-15 minutes to get their food.

“It’s really annoying,” junior Dylan Paflas said. “I get it. There are tons of reasons for the lines being super long but lunch is the only time I’m not expected to be working on something. Having to spend most of my time just standing in line is pretty infuriating.”

Gruman acknowledged Paflas’ frustration.

“Sometimes there are shortages, and sometimes it’s day-to-day,” Gruman said. “Our staff serves a lot of students. I think part of the difference in the lines occurred because we moved from four lunches to three lunches.”

The district continues to struggle with a shortage of staff.

“I think there are still some other openings area schools are trying to fill,” Gruman said. “It is a real need. We need to get people to look at these types of roles in education.”