TWIN FALLS — Ashley Ausere enjoyed working in a Twin Falls school cafeteria, but it was a temporary job for only three hours a day.
Toward the end of the school year, she received a few weeks’ notice her job at Robert Stuart Middle School would end.
Ausere wanted to stay to work in the school district’s summer lunch program, but all the slots had been filled. She ended up substituting only two or three times.
“I did enjoy working for the school district,” she said. “I just needed something that’s a little more right now.”
The Twin Falls School District is having a tough time hanging onto its classified employees — those who fill hourly roles such as a paraprofessional, custodian, crossing guard or cafeteria worker.
And it’s particularly hard to keep those with technical certifications, such as in heating/air conditioning or electrical.
The topic came up last week during a Twin Falls school board meeting. And struggling to keep classified employees is a challenge felt by many other south-central Idaho school districts.
Classified workers provide services about 9,300 students in the Twin Falls School District rely on. School officials say classified employees are crucial to the district’s operations.
The big hiring push for certified employees — such as teachers and school administrators —happens each summer to prepare for the upcoming school year.
But for classified employees, the district is just getting started this summer on filing positions and continues hiring throughout the school year.
“We have turnover all year long,” said Shannon Swafford, human resources director for the Twin Falls School District.
The number of employees leaving within the last year wasn’t immediately available Tuesday.
The biggest factor behind the frequent turnover, Swafford said, is the low unemployment rate, hovering below 3 percent in the Twin Falls area. It means there’s more competition for workers.
“It just seems like it’s really competitive in the valley,” she said. “We’re all fighting for the same people.”
And that likely won’t change anytime soon. Earlier this month, C3/CustomerContactChannels announced it plans to add 445 new entry-level jobs to its call center in Twin Falls.
The pay will range from $9-$12 per hour, depending on experience.
Twin Falls School District officials say they promote the benefits of working at schools: a stable, family-friendly Monday through Friday schedule with daytime hours — except custodians.
Plus, employees who work 20 hours or more a week qualify for Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho benefits.
Swafford said she thinks employees often just look at their paychecks — not the long-term picture of retirement. “I think a lot of people don’t look that far down the road.”
The downsides of some classified jobs include awkward schedules or few hours per week.
Among the job listings currently on the school district’s website: three school crossing guard positions for one hour per day (30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon).
Others include a food service cashier for 3.75 hours per day at $11.07-$12.35 per hour, two food service tray washers for 3.75 hours per day at $10.22-$11.45 per hour, seven paraprofessional jobs from 3.5 to 7 hours per day at $9.95-$12.07 per hour, and a head warehouseman for 8 hours per day at $13.29-$14.55 per hour.
To help combat turnover, the Twin Falls school board approved a new pay schedule for classified employees two years ago. That helped with retaining employees, Swafford said.
It concluded months of work by a 20-member committee that looked at ways to improve pay. The pay schedule essentially allows employees to top out after 10 years instead of 20, and boosts pay overall.
The plan also includes a retention incentive for longtime employees, ranging from $100 to $500, if they receive a satisfactory performance evaluation.
State funding helps pay for classified employees, but Twin Falls school officials say it’s not enough and doesn’t cover all its job positions.
The district spends $1.89 for every $1 of classified employee money it receives from the state.
Austere was hired last school year for the cafeteria job, where she stayed for just four or five months.
A manager told her she would be a temporary employee because many students would be at the new South Hills Middle School next school year.
“She didn’t know if they would be keeping me yet,” she said.
On the job, Ausere worked during the lunchtime hours, serving food, and cleaning the floors and tables. Plus, “I just made sure that nothing happened in the lunchroom,” she said.
Now, she has moved on to new jobs — ones where she’ll get more hours. And ultimately, that means more money.