Jessica Cejnar / Monday, April 26 @ 5:45 p.m.
Staff Questions Del Norte Unified's Move to Create Entry-Level Safety, IT and Communications Jobs
Local education officials blamed the pandemic when taking job descriptions for entry level positions related to safety, technology and communications to the Del Norte Unified School District Board of Trustees on Thursday.
DNUSD Human Resources Director Coleen Parkers said the need for someone to man a help desk hotline for technology or help ensure a livestream is working properly are examples of the district making accelerated changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, though she acknowledged that the technology and safety positions were necessary, Sarah Mitchell, vice president for CSEA Northern 178, which represents the district’s classified employees said special education, custodial and maintenance staff are stretched thin too.
“The classified staff are truly on the grounds with student being spread so insanely thin,” she said. “We hear at the top, ‘Well, they’re really pretty busy and they might need that help next year.’ Well, we do need the help and you guys do know we need it.”
Despite Mitchell’s comment, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the three new job descriptions. The district’s personnel commission will set the salary, the entry-level requirements and title for each description, Parker said. The Board of Trustees will have final approval for the positions themselves before they’re advertised, according to Parker.
The first description Parker brought to trustees came from a realization during the pandemic that the district needed someone who could coordinate investigations for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, including follow-up visits from OSHSA officials.
“A lot of places have a risk management person who does a lot of this work, but this is specific to safety and it would be more of a coordination of work that would likely be under the direction of Mr. (Jeff) Napier,” Parker said. “But this would also be determined by the personnel commission.”
Other proposed responsibilities for this position include developing, maintaining and implementing safety plans for each campus, maintaining reports of “critical incidents,” and maintaining the safety portion of the DNUSD website.
DNUSD Board Vice President Charlaine Mazzei said the job description should emphasized health and pandemic response in addition to fire, natural disaster and active shooter situations.
Board President Angela Greenough noted that the description should also include coordinating with the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services.
As for technology, Ryan Bahten, director of information network services, said his department set up a help desk for the public a year ago that still rings off the hook.
“Our phone support has expanded to support every man, woman and child in Del Norte County,” he said. “When you combine the fact that we have deployed hundreds, if not thousands, of new devices to our teachers and our students and we’re going to continue to need to support that increased number of devices… that cat’s out of the bag, it’s not going away.”
Someone is needed to handle the number of calls to the help desk and to support troubleshooting student’s computers and other devices, Bahten said. This will enable the rest of his staff to focus on implementing filters and firewalls and wireless networks, he said.
DNUSD had a long-term goal of getting every student a device of his or her own for years, Superintendent Jeff Harris told trustees. COVID-19 accelerated that plan, he said, adding that Bahten and his staff are troubleshooting between 3,000 and 4,000 student devices along with 1,000 belonging to staff.
Technology staff also give support to devices families have at home and are trying to maintain the district’s own infrastructure, Harris said.
Bahten, in response to a question from Trustee Frank Magarino, who asked if the additional staff would be necessary once children begin returning to a somewhat normal school period, said most students will take their devices home with them.
“I don't think any of our tasks in IT in and of themselves is impossible or, maybe, overly complicated or hard,” Bahten said. “The sheer quantity of tasks have become a little bit untenable. We need to increase our staffing and grow from within.”
Parker spoke of the third job descriptions as the need to continue moving forward when the pandemic is over.
“One of the things to really come out of this whole pandemic is our ability to do presentations online as we’ve been doing these board meetings on line,” she said. “We’re livestreaming all of our games now and getting more information electronically about what’s happened in the districts. The podcasts have been tremendously beneficial and I know just having these board meetings online, we have a lot more public involvement, which is something you all need.”
However, Parker noted, the person overseeing this, outreach and communications director, Michael Hawkins, is a department of one.
Hawkins said his job includes working with reporters, ensuring the district’s website meets the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, designing ads and editing podcasts and videos. He also mans the district’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
A subordinate who can help him maintain the district’s social media accounts, work with school staff and principals on how to use their websites and maintain other supports like the new Connect Del Norte web page would ensure quality content, he said.
“I’ll be here in the evenings live streaming until 8 o’clock regularly, whether it’s last night’s volleyball games, basketball games on the weekends or maybe additional sports, and it will be coming up,” Hawkins said. “But I’d like to spend some of that time building out some of the long-term systems. If we get someone who can help me support all of those different things (it will) free me up to move forward.”
Greenough was enthusiastic about all three job descriptions she and her colleagues were asked to consider, noting that maintaining a website sounds easy, but it really takes hours.
“One of my big fears (is) what happens if Michael or Ryan, something happens to them and we can’t livestream our meetings, and we’re still required to livestream,” she said. “We need a backup plan. The laws are constantly changing because everyone has learned of the convenience with government meetings. There’s new laws about closed captioning and translation that has to happen.”
Magarino, however, brought up “pushback” the Board of Trustees has received about the district having “too many employees.”
“In this particular sense, here, I’m 100 percent behind it,” he said, referring to the need for another person in the communications department.
In response to the board’s enthusiasm, Mitchell said the new job descriptions sounded awesome, but said there’s a staffing crisis in other areas too. The custodian staff only have 12 to 15 minutes to clean a classroom while maintenance jobs are ongoing, but the maintenance crew is diminished, for example, she said.
Instructional assistants are currently working four hour shifts and are wondering how they’ll make sure students are covered when five-day-a-week learning resumes, Mitchell said.
“I think our tech department is amazing, but let’s also ask ourselves what department has been added to the most recent and where are our needs?” she said. “We have members of our community that don’t have access to the internet. We know that — this pandemic has shown that — and we’re investing in social media outreach? There are some times when we have to say what we’ve got going on is good enough right now because we have other priorities too.”
Teacher Lisa Sedgwick said that while the technology department does need support, the need for instructional assistants is much greater. Sedgwick also questioned the need for someone to man the district’s social media platforms.
“Maybe you should be cutting back on things, the podcasts, I want to know how many numbers of people are listening to the podcast weekly; is it actually necessary?” Sedgwick asked. “A social media person does not bring social supports to the classroom. They’re not assisting with kids that need the most help. I’m not sure if this is the wisest way to spend money.”
According to Parker, there are 17 classified staff positions and two teaching positions open in the district’s Special Education Department.