The state Department of Education is struggling to fill critical positions ranging from custodians and food service managers to substitute teachers and tutors. Meanwhile, thousands of hotel workers who were laid off during the pandemic need jobs.

The DOE and the Unite Here Local 5 union see a potential match and have joined forces to try to fill some of those public school vacancies with unemployed hospitality workers.

“If these organizations have employees that meet minimum requirements, and are interested, we are making a very concerted effort to get these individuals in as quickly as possible,” interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said this weekend at the annual Parents for Public Schools Hawaii meeting.

The effort comes as the DOE — like other school districts around the country — is facing a labor shortage, from school bus drivers to substitute teachers. The state education system is roughly 100 substitute teachers short on a daily basis, Hayashi said.

Interim DOE Superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks during a press conference held at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School.
Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi says the DOE is “making a concerted effort” to ease shortages in the substitute teaching pool. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said the substitute shortage has forced higher-level administrative staff to fill in for classroom duty or lumped students into bigger groups to accommodate supervision.

“Some substitutes have accepted a job only to be pulled from the assignment they signed up for to babysit multiple classes in a cafeteria or gym – or some other bait-and-switch – and are no longer willing to take jobs at a particular school or within a complex,” the HSTA quoted one teacher as saying in a blog post.

Meanwhile, roughly 40% of Unite Here Local 5’s 9,000 members are still out of work, while many of the 60% who are back on the job are not getting full-time hours, according to spokesman Bryant De Venecia.

“A great number of our members and their households are out of work since March 2020,” he said on Monday, adding the pandemic has opened up new job opportunities for these workers. “DOE needed help spreading the message, especially the temp positions.”

A DOE Google form lists potential jobs including custodians, health assistants, security attendants, food service managers, tutors, teaching aides and office assistants. It also serves as an “interest form” that asks candidates in which districts or schools they would prefer to work. Substitute teacher applicants would have to apply through a separate portal.

“These are casual jobs, not permanent in nature. It may be just a bridge, but if people go start working for the DOE — and it leads to a permanent job — that’s great as well,” said James Hardway, president of Banquet Health Solutions, a staffing agency that works with the union.

Hayashi said the DOE is making “a concerted effort to increase our substitute pool” and reached out to organizations like Local 5 to help with that effort.

He noted that substitute eligibility requirements have been lowered to only require a high school diploma, but said interested parties still must meet some “major requirements” like enjoying working with students and being flexible with time.

“Sometimes, needs for substitutes come up that very morning,” he said.

A substitute in the DOE can make anywhere from $157.02 a day for those who have a high school diploma to $184.66 a day for those who have a Hawaii teaching license and have completed a state-approved teacher education program.

“It may be just a bridge, but if people go start working for the DOE — and it leads to a permanent job — that’s great as well.” — James Hardway of Banquet Health Solutions

The average hourly rate for a hotel housekeeping worker is $21 to $24 per hour, while a hotel cook makes about $30 per hour, according to Hardway.

Banquet Solutions Hawaii has been promoting the DOE roles on its website for roughly two weeks. Hardway said 35 people have reached out to his organization for assistance with applying, although there’s no way to know how many union members have actively applied for the DOE jobs.

HSTA president Osa Tui Jr. said the DOE’s partnership with Local 5 is “something that the public sector unions recommended the department explore.”

“Any help we can get at the school level is greatly appreciated,” he said Monday. “Working with Local 5 is a great way to support our communities.”

“If Local 5 folks have the qualifications and availability, then there’s no reason not to have them substitute (teach),” he added.

DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said the school system has an active pool of 3,200 substitute teachers with about 1,200 daily requests.

“We are hopeful the situation will continue to improve with decreasing case counts, high vaccination rates among HIDOE employees, students ages 5 to 11 now eligible for vaccination, and ongoing efforts to recruit substitute teachers,” she said in a statement on Monday.

Public schools returned to full in-person classes this year after more than a year of distance or hybrid learning since the pandemic began.

Hayashi said Saturday that 92% of teachers and 89% of nearly 22,000 salaried DOE personnel have been vaccinated against Covid-19 as of Nov. 1. That’s in line with the percentage of fully vaccinated personnel across other agencies in the state executive branch.

Additionally, the DOE is granting teachers two hours of paid time off to get a Covid shot or a booster shot.

Monday also marked the first day a public school began offering Pfizer vaccinations to kids aged 5 to 11, since the shots received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration about a week ago. Kalihi Uka Elementary provided shots “for several dozen students” in partnership with Safeway Pharmacy, the DOE said in a news release.

More than 100 public schools have registered to host such clinics to help vaccinate the approximately 83,000 children in this age range across the public school system.

But the DOE said the sites will be limited to enrolled students only, to “ensure safety” during school hours, and that a list of specific school sites will not be published.

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