TUSD Superintendent addresses ongoing staffing shortages and campus safety

Parents can expect very strict check-in procedures when visiting campuses
KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 7:00 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s back to school for Tucson Unified students Aug. 4 and the district is once again tackling serious staffing shortages.

Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo held a media briefing and provided the latest staff counts.

The biggest concern is the ongoing shortage of bus drivers.

Trujillo said the district made more headway this year with 55 vacancies compared to 85 last school year.

A total of 200 bus drivers are needed to get to those pre-pandemic levels to put neighborhood routes back to normal.

About 15,0000 students will be riding the busses this year.

He said the district already sent out bus schedules and routes to parents, which is much earlier than the two-day notice they received last year.

“We wanted to make sure that we gave our families that gift of time to be able to decide if the route that we’ve assigned them, the pickup location, the drop-off location and the schedule is going to work for their family,” he said.

Trujillo also said the district hasn’t seen much improvement in filling teacher and substitute teacher positions.

The teacher workforce is about 2,750 and right now the district has 126 teacher openings, including 25 in middle and high school math.

And it has 300 subs going into this school year, which is down from 700 to 800 before the pandemic.

Trujillo has a three-pronged approach to address the shortfalls. The district is examining the enrollment at each of the schools to determine whether class count justifies the position.

“So we’ll be able to close the teacher vacancy with no harm to kids. We can quietly get the vacancy off the books. That’s called equalization. Maybe that vacancy will shrink minimally, maybe get us to under a hundred.” he said.

Trujillo says the district is doing more to attract long-term subs when teachers take semester long assignments.

“We get a good, healthy chunk of vacancies covered with the use of long-term subs, willing to take the position for at least a year,” he said.

The third approach involved using internal coverage, which he says the district tries to minimize.

“That’s where teachers start giving up their prep hours in assuming extra sections to cover any positions or any classes that are still in need of coverage,” he said.

He said at the elementary level, sometimes teachers will take combined grade level classes.

“We can them combos if the class sizes warrant, and we can merge a first grade class with a second grade class. We’ll do that. It’s not ideal, but it’s something that we’ve done in the past in extreme situations,” he said/

Class sizes might go up to near or at the recommended consensus agreement with TEA.

“For example, for the first time kindergarten classes may have 25 or 26 kids in a room and that’s not going to feel good for those teachers that have been accustomed to having a lower class size. Every time we go over the negotiated class size, we have to give them compensation. This is called overcap payments that they have to agree to,” he said.

Trujillo did have some good news on pay for about 740 staffers.

The district has boosted the lowest compensated workers from $13 an hour to $15.

Campus safety is also a major concern in light of the mass shooting in Uvalde Texas.

He pointed out the big fight at Tucson High last year that sparked a campus lockdown.

Tucson police arrested a father and teen.

The father was charged with disrupting an educational institute.

Trujillo said the district has been working to ramp up security at all its school to prevent violence, including shootings, from happening.

The district will be coming to the board soon with a comprehensive pack to improve campus safety.

That includes replacing or fixing gates and fencing as well as reexamine placement of security cameras.

He says parents can expect very strict check-in procedures when they visit campuses.

“Strict designated places where they’ll have to check in and that visits will largely be supervised and that they can expect to be escorted from place to place depending on what their business is on the campuses. So still trying to maintain a spirit of being welcomed, but also we have this responsibility to be security minded and to be aware of where visitors and parents are going on our campuses at all times,” he said.

Trujillo said he’ll have more significant details next week after he meets with school principals.

No word yet on any costs associated with the changes.

Copyright 2022 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.