It's back to the books this week for students in Missoula County Public Schools and at many districts across Montana.

But for school administrators, the real worry is not getting the kids to settle down, but to make sure many key positions are filled in time for classes.

New Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill says there aren't enough applicants to fill key positions, and competing with other Montana districts in the same crunch.

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"Challenges that Missoula is facing are not dissimilar to what's happening across the state or even across the country," Hill tells me. "Seeing a shortage of educators in very specific areas, for example, special education or career and technical education. Welding instructors. Foreign language instructors. Our universities are just for not putting out the same number of candidates. And so that makes it a race for everybody."

New MCPS Superintendent Micah Hill; Dennis Bragg photo
New MCPS Superintendent Micah Hill; Dennis Bragg photo

And Hill says that's a big concern because the openings are in the support positions which keep the schools running.

"You know, food service workers, where we provide two meals for every family or every student that wants one. And bus drivers, you know, we work with Beach Transportation and their challenge is to recruit bus drivers. Paraprofessionals. And you know just these other support personnel, that really without them, the district struggles to operate day-to-day."

Currently, MCPS is doing okay finding teachers. But the district needs 9 food service workers, 7 people for noon duty and school crossings, and 15 para-educators. Hill says the school board also raised pay to find more substitutes.

"It's a challenge for us. Really hard when budgets are tight to compete against the private sector from the public sector perspective."

Kindergarten, 6th, and 9th graders start classes in Missoula today. The other classes begin on Wednesday.

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