Ben Roberts, far right, a school official in the Freeport...

Ben Roberts, far right, a school official in the Freeport district, speaks with job-seekers Wednesday at the Freeport Recreation Center. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The good news is Long Island isn't suffering from the teacher shortages seen in so many places around the country, school officials said. 

The bad news is Island schools are scrambling to fill widespread vacancies in virtually every support staff position, including custodians, bus drivers, teacher aides, cafeteria workers, security workers and groundskeepers. 

On Wednesday, some 35 school districts in Nassau County participated in a job fair at the Freeport Recreation Center, setting up long tables along the sidelines of the basketball court. Job-seekers took their best shot in mini meet-and-greets with school reps — a quick handshake, an exchange of interest, a resume left behind — in what seemed like the speed dating of the education world.

"We're in dire need of support staff," said Tom McGrath, assistant to the superintendent for human resources for Nassau BOCES, which hosted the event. "Teacher aides and nurses are the stress points."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Some 35 school districts in Nassau County participated in a job fair Wednesday hosted by Nassau BOCES at the Freeport Recreation Center.
  • Island schools are scrambling to fill widespread vacancies in virtually every support staff position, including custodians, bus drivers, teacher aides and cafeteria workers.
  • Support workers can be as difficult to retain as they are to hire, officials said. The jobs, many of which are part-time, stand among the lower rungs of the pay ladder.

Lulzim Haxhi, 56, of Westbury came to the job fair carrying the burden felt by so many Islanders — the struggle to pay the high costs of living on Long Island. He's a part-time bus driver but said he needs more hours and more money.

"I make $36,000 but I need $60,000 to pay my mortgage and expenses," Haxhi said. "When you're not doing well, you look for a better job, especially now with inflation."

Schools are going the extra mile to attract support staff, flying planes with banners over beaches, reaching out to area colleges and holding job fairs. Nassau BOCES hosted a similar fair last school year, which drew 200 applicants. This year, they had more than 100 within the first of four hours, said Peter Nicolino, Nassau BOCES liaison to the superintendent.

"People are hurting," Nicolino said. "It's the economy. We're getting people not only looking for a job, but looking for a second job."

Support workers can be as difficult to retain as they are to hire, officials said. Their jobs, many of which are part-time, stand among the lower rungs of the pay ladder. Many don't require any certification beyond a high school diploma, and workers often move on to something better soon after being hired.

William Phillips, of Valley Stream, at the job fair Wednesday.

William Phillips, of Valley Stream, at the job fair Wednesday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

People came with all sorts of stories. William Phillips, 59, moved amid the low buzz of conversations, shuffling from table to table, looking job-ready in his gray dress suit and polished black shoes. 

"I'm retired, and I have to find something to do," said the former transit conductor from Valley Stream who was aiming for a custodian position.

Phillips said his eldest daughter is away at college and he was hoping to land a night job so he could care for his other daughter, who has special needs.

Matthew Soileau, 23, said he has a bachelor's degree and plans a career in graphic design. But after graduating, Soileau said, he learned employers want applicants to show they held a job for a year.

"They're just looking for experience," said Soileau, of Bethpage. "I want to get my foot in the door."

When a school is plagued with employee shortages, mornings can be a scramble to make sure buses get out, the nurses office is staffed and hallways are secure, officials said. That can mean hiring subs from employment agencies, which costs a lot more, or stretching one nurse over two school buildings, they said.

McGrath said the Island is lucky to have so many colleges feeding teachers into the school systems here. 

Jennifer Kirby, the Great Neck schools human resource director, amassed a stack of resumes and applications on her desk. She was offering a welcoming smile to job-seeker Hinal Patel.

Patel, 25, said she had just moved from Texas to Glen Cove. She explained she has a psychology degree but needed to find work, perhaps as a teacher aide, to get settled.

"I'm asking for a full-time position," she said, pulling out her resume.

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