As competition for employees mounts in Douglas County, the Maple School District is feeling the squeeze.

The School Board voted Monday, June 14 to raise the minimum wage of support staff and middle management to $16 an hour. Those who are currently on the payroll will see a 2% living wage increase, as well as a pay bump of $2.38 per hour. Substitutes will now be paid the full amount, as well. In the past, they made 5% less per hour than full-time employees.

The move, which will affect roughly 100 people, is needed to fill nine open positions and attract applicants for future openings.

“Right now, we’re getting squeezed. We reacted this way with the bus drivers, we had to. There’s no other way around it. It’s not something you can plan for over five or six years,” said Business Manager Paul Staffrude. “Even at $16 per hour, I don’t know if that’s high enough.”

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There are other jobs within driving distance that pay up to $18 per hour, he said.

“I, too, see that everyone across the country is looking for workers,” said Nancy Lind, board president. “And restaurants are shortening hours, or they’re closing for a day or two because they don’t have the staff. We are a school district, and we can’t do that.”

Staffrude said the district was already having difficulty getting people to apply for the jobs — which include paraprofessional, food service and custodial positions — before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Without the bump in pay, he said the district could start the year with as many as 15 unfilled positions.

“We need to have employees in place, and what worries me the most is we’re not even getting people to apply. They’re not even looking here,” Lind said. “That doesn’t give us much hope of filling these positions as they are right now.”

It’s important to give employees a living wage, said board member Danna Livingston-Matherly, and the support staff who do these jobs are worthy of that.

“I think it’s a sad day when the school district is competing with McDonald’s and Kwik Trip,” said new board member Shari Olson.

Paraprofessionals serve a host of roles, from special education assistants and aides to teaching assistants. Olson said schools can’t function without these vital workers.

The district has been examining and raising employee pay scales over the last few years to remain competitive, Staffrude said, starting with teachers in the 2017-2018 school year. Bumping wages and offering incentives for bus drivers this spring helped the district fill seats as a slew of long-time drivers retired. District Administrator Sara Croney told the board Monday that all the full-time driver positions have been filled for the 2021-2022 school year, and three substitute drivers are available.

"I guess your wage increase worked," she said.

In other action, the Maple School Board:

  • Voted to make mask use optional for summer school and the 2021-2022 school year. The district will continue to follow federal COVID-19 mask mandates for students on buses.

  • Approved the purchase of a new special education bus for the 2021-2022 school year.

  • Voted to allow district maintenance staff to provide bus maintenance services to outside agencies when mechanics are available to do so.

  • Approved a $60,199 bid for the building construction house, built by students.

The board meeting can be viewed online through YouTube. A link to the meeting is also available on the district's Facebook page.