SAN ANTONIO – As the students of Barbara Bush Middle School chattered their way into the lunchroom Friday, they split into two lines, snaking their way around the room to three lunch counters.
A fourth counter, sat behind a closed, pull-down door.
Northeast ISD Executive Director of School Nutrition Sharon Glosson says that with 141 openings among roughly 600 cafeteria positions, the district has had to make adjustments.
“We’ve had to limit the variety in our menus. We’ve also had to close a number of lines that would service our students and have less serving lines in a school, as well as we’ve needed to use more paper goods at times because we don’t have the staff to wash all of the trays,” Glosson said.
The district has had trouble filling open Glosson says, as fewer people are looking for jobs in school food service. She attributes the difficulties to a variety of factors, including changing priorities for workers who chose to stay at home with their families earlier in the pandemic and have yet to return to the workforce.
There’s also the issue of pay and competition for workers. NEISD has the lowest wages out of all the districts in the city, she said, and they’re also competing with the struggling restaurant industry for workers.
The problem isn’t unique to NEISD, though.
Neighboring Northside ISD has 100 openings out of about 950 cafeteria staff positions, including its reserve pool, says Director of Child Nutrition Thomas Wherry, who notes there is a “national shortage” of cafeteria staff at the moment.
And while NISD may have fewer openings than NEISD, it’s still running on thin enough staffing margins that other school staff have occasionally had to step in when too many of the usual staff are out.
“We’ve had some teachers help out, and we’ve had some some principals help out as well,” Wherry said.
Glosson is familiar with the dynamic. She has found herself filling in at schools on almost a daily basis, and office staff have had to step in, too.
“It’s all hands on deck,” she said.
Glosson said the district has tried to boost its staffing levels with a variety of attempts to advertise: using social media, billboards, and even fliers for students to take home to their parents. It’s also giving current employees $250 referral bonuses as an incentive.