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Staffing shortages plague San Diego's rural school districts

After hiring 80 people this year alone, Mountain Empire School District Superintendent Patrick Keeley is still looking for staff.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — From Mount Laguna, the Mexican Border and to the edge of Imperial County, the Mountain Empire Unified School district covers a huge section of San Diego County.

"We have eight substitute teachers to cover 660 square miles of schools," said Patrick Keeley, the Superintendent for the Mountain Empire School District. "We're a small school district, enrollment-wise, but we're massive as far as our area that we cover."

Keeley is responsible for the district’s six middle and elementary schools and the district's single high school. After a year of difficult distance learning, some teachers moved districts, retired or moved onto other careers. Keeley said just last year they’ve had to hire 80 new people, from teachers to custodians but still have plenty of job openings. Substitutes, becoming some of the hardest to hire.

"I think that the pressures of coming back full time, needing additional training and things," said Keeley "But without subs, you can't get people up to train to improve something that they might want to improve upon."

Keeley said Mountain Empire is always in competition for quality subs with neighboring school districts. Though offering better pay and incentives isn’t worth the long drive for some.

"if you're living in El Cajon, you have Lakeside, you have the Grossmont District, you have La Mesa - all within 10 miles or less," he said. "I've had people refuse a job interview here and they're driving up from El Cajon. And that's only 30 minutes."

San Diego Unified School district, the largest in the county has also acknowledged the substitute shortage saying : 

We have offered hiring bonuses and other incentives to continue attracting the best teachers. So far the substitute shortage has not impacted operations, but with the fall flu season ahead and the continued presence of Covid-19 in our community, we are not taking any chances.”

While San Diego Unified might not be dealing with staffing issues at the moment, the county’s rural schools still have plenty of openings. 

Fewer staff to give San Diego’s kids the best learning experience possible.

WATCH: Many San Diego County schools have bus driver shortage (Aug. 2021)

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