Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel schools still lack eight Ed Techs and multiple bus drivers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

RSU 21 is still short eight educational technicians, District Superintendent Dr. Terri Cooper said in an email. But although this reflects a broader theme across the state, she is not discouraged.

“We have implemented an employee referral program, which provides a $1,500 referral bonus to any employee who refers a candidate to the district, and that person in turn is hired,” said Cooper. “Our Ed Tech compensation continues to be among the highest in the state. We are confident that our recruiting efforts will yield positive results.”

For Mainers who have been reading about school staffing shortages across the state — as well as the nation – the need for additional employees will not come as a surprise.

The Press Herald reported 114 staff vacancies in Lewiston schools and 51 in Portland last week. Paraprofessional hourly support roles, particularly educational technicians and special education teachers – as well as bus drivers – are proving particularly difficult to fill.

“We have made great progress in filling our bus driver positions,” Cooper said, “However, we will continue to advertise further to ensure all extracurricular and after-school programs can be supported.” Her district, which includes Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel, is still advertising for five more bus driver positions.

“One of the pieces we don’t talk about,” Superintendent Jeremy Ray of neighboring Biddeford and Saco said, “is that York County and the nation have historically low unemployment right now.” Unemployment in Maine was at 2.4% in June and July, over a percentage point below the national average, according to the Maine Department of Labor. York and Cumberland counties fell even lower than that, a slim 2.1%.

Low unemployment isn’t the only pressure on the hiring pool. Cooper said job candidates are having difficulty finding affordable housing in the area. This is just one of the many challenges schools have faced since the pandemic, she said, when she feels that many people “reassessed what their true calling is.”

Despite the hiring challenges her school district faced this fall, Cooper gives credit to “our longtime drivers and department leaders providing input and public testimonials about how RSU 21 is a great place to work.”

The last two days of August brought the first day of school for students in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel in the first through the twelfth grades. Although they may not know it, they are lucky to be welcomed by schools that are nearly fully staffed.

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