BALTIMORE (WJZ) — School staffing shortages are rising along with COVID-19 cases as employees isolate, quarantine or leave the industry.

The shortage extends beyond teachers. This includes substitutes, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and administrators. Aside from COVID-19 crippling some of the workforce, competitive pay is another challenge, according to Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost.

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“We still see people not coming into the profession because our pay remains about $0.80 to the dollar that other people are getting,” Bost said.

As part of Maryland’s multibillion-dollar education bill, starting salaries could increase to $60,000 a year by 2026.

COVID-19 is also partly to blame for the vacancies statewide. The pandemic has caused teachers to expand their duties beyond the typical classroom-style education. Bost said this includes contact tracing in some systems, enforcing mask-wearing and teaching virtually.

“The demands have grown. We’re seeing more and more people leaving,” Bost said.

The MSEA president said there are immediate and long-term actions that should be taken to mark education as a priority as teachers, students and parents navigate the latest surge in infections.

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One of the immediate requests involves a safe work environment and resources.

“I would like to see employees being mandated to either be vaccinated or tested,” said Bost.

On Monday, the Baltimore City Public Schools CEO announced a new requirement: All staff must now get regularly tested throughout January regardless of their vaccination status. That is a change as only unvaccinated staff were required to get regular tests previously.

High school students will get PCR tests on Wednesday. Rapid tests for elementary and middle school students will be administered after schools open again Thursday, but only with a parent or guardian’s consent.

Jane Arukwe, a fifth-grade teacher in Baltimore, said with a revolving door of changes happening, being there for the children is one constant that can be provided no matter the circumstances.

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“Teaching is hard work,” she said. “You have to be really passionate about it and I think now more than ever, you have truly be in it for the students.”

Cristina Mendez