UNION — After dire reports of understaffing from other Regional School Unit 40 administrators, one principal implored the Board of Directors to address the ongoing staffing shortages and warned them against ignoring the problem.

“I need some help,” Medomak Middle School principal Kate Race told the RSU 40 Board of Directors in a passionate and emotional speech Thursday, Oct. 6. “We… are struggling.”

Race said while there were other issues, her main concern was staffing. “Last week I had 15 absences, and seven of those remained unfilled,” she said. This means she and the assistant principal are acting as substitute teachers and running study halls, leaving them unable to perform their duties as administrators of the school.

Those staff absences are in addition to the three unfilled teaching positions at the middle school, plus one behavioral health professional position and one administrative secretary position. Race said finding coverage for all these positions creates a lack of structure that is difficult for both the students and the staff.

Race said she was not sure what the solution was to this problem, but she knew the current arrangement was not sustainable. Students are not getting what they need, and teachers are working harder and harder and losing the love of teaching. “We cannot keep up this pace,” Race warned the Board. “You are going to lose so many people.”

One problem was the pay scale for the behavioral health professionals, Race said. When people are paid $16 an hour to work with the most difficult students in the district, that is a problem, she said. Those people can work a much easier job somewhere else for the same pay.

Race said discipline was another big issue the middle school was dealing with. She and the assistant principal spend most of their day dealing with major discipline issues from a small population of students. “It’s out of control,” she said. She added the behavior issues she deals with would likely shock members of the board.

“I am imploring you as a board to take this seriously,” Race said. She was not trying to blame anyone, she added, but was trying to make the board aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Other district administrators spoke to the ongoing staffing shortages as well. Special Services Director Karen Brackett said her program was struggling with staff and had fifteen education technician and behavioral health professional positions open. The district could not find substitute teachers for these positions because the pay was not high enough, she added.

Brackett shared emails from her staff about this ongoing staffing shortage. “We are not going to last much longer,” one said. “Kids are not able to learn.”

Another email Brackett shared was a resignation, as the person had realized working as a substitute would mean making “almost double” in pay daily.

A third communication outlined serious concern for the safety of school staff and students with so few staff in the special education programs and continued resignations. “We are just barely surviving,” the email said. “It’s rough.”

Business Manager Karen Pike also spoke to the Board regarding a lack of staff. Pike said the district is down three bus drivers, and they have unfortunately had to cancel bus runs already this school year. While the district has hired Luce Transportation to assist with the bus runs, Pike said that company does not have enough drivers either. They plan to share buses with RSU 13 for sporting events, but that is not a real solution.

“Until we can hire bus drivers, I don’t foresee this getting any better,” Pike said.

Superintendent Steve Nolan also brought the staffing issue to the Board’s attention, saying the district had about three dozen vacancies, especially in self-contained special education programs.

While they continued to accept applications and interview candidates, Nolan said staffing was one of the greater challenges facing the district.

The next RSU 40 Board of Directors meeting is Thursday, Oct. 20 at Medomak Middle School in Waldoboro.