Skip to main content
A1 A1
Geary County Schools uses job fairs to find employees
  • Updated

The Geary County school district hopes two job fairs it had last week will help fill open positions in the district.

USD 475 hosted two career fairs conducting 25 interviews on Tuesday, July 26, at H.D. Karns Building in Junction City and 22 interviews on Wednesday, July 27, at Fort Riley Middle School.

The district held two days of scheduled and walk-in interviews for classified positions for Junction City and Fort Riley middle schools. Open classified positions included paraeducators, food service positions, classroom aides and hall monitors. In some cases, applicants looking for a teaching job went to the career fair, but they still need to conduct a formal interview later.

Forbes explained how the job fair was for the community, and it would still take place even if there weren’t a shortage of people to fill positions at the middle schools.

“With schools on base and being close to a military base, the population changes constantly,” said Jessica Forbes, district HR representative. “What better way to make sure you are including that community when you hold career fairs, and you get people in to learn about the school district and find a job? I think (this job fair) will continue.”

The district conducted about 47 interviews with 35 people across two days, with some people speaking with administrators about more than one vacancy. If administrators liked the applicant from the interview, they recommend the applicant to be hired. The HR team does reference checks on the applicant and makes sure the position is available for them before offering them the job.

The middle schools have struggled with a shortage of teaching staff in recent years.

Time Winter, executive director of personnel service, said there is a good chance the district won’t be able to fill all the positions at the middle schools for the upcoming school year.

“We will have to increase class sizes and just spread kids out, or group kids up to meet all the kids’ needs,” Winter said. “It was that way last year as well as teaching positions did not get filled.

“With the number of people that are retiring and going out of teaching, the number of people coming in to teach is just not keeping up.

“This is nationwide. Every school district in the country nowadays probably struggles with hiring teachers and having enough applicants.”

Winter said there is still currently 30 teaching positions to fill, and he said he is nervous about not having those positions filled for the start of the school year on Aug. 16.

He said there is a good chance that will be the case. Though even if many teaching positions are not filled, Winter said the students will still benefit from attending the school.

“We will still be able to provide a quality education,” Winter said. “Kids will still have teachers, and they will still be in classrooms learning, but our average class size will not be at the level we feel is best. It will be a little higher.”

State education department examines teaching vacancies

The Kansas State Department of Education is coordinating a series of meetings at various Kansas locations to explore “issues surrounding teacher vacancies in the state,” explained Debbie Mercer, Dean of the College of Education at Kansas State University. A cluster of education officials from around the state, including Mercer, met at K-State on Thursday.

Mercer said special education is the top need in the state.

“That has long been true,” she said.

Mercer referred to a report by the Kansas State Department of Education last spring that revealed special education as the state’s greatest area of need, based on teacher vacancies. The department reported 305 unfilled special education teaching positions across the state, followed by 251 unfilled elementary school teaching positions. The department also reported vacancies, among middle and high schools, that included 108 unfilled English Language Arts positions, 94 unfilled mathematics teaching positions and 86 unfilled science teaching positions.

The Kansas Department of Education’s meetings focusing on teacher vacancies started on May 31. The gathering at Kansas State University was the third in the series, according to an email from Shane Carter, director of teacher licensure for the Kansas State Department of Education. He described the meetings as “planning sessions to identify possible strategic initiatives” for combating educator shortages. A public report to the Kansas State Board of Education is expected to be delivered by October.

The meetings have included higher education faculty, university licensure officers, district superintendents, principals, human resource staff members and service center employees, Carter explained in the email.

Attendance was particularly broad-based at Kansas State University, with Kansas National Education Association representatives, Kansas Teacher of the Year representatives, higher education faculty members and a Kansas Department of Commerce director attending, Carter said.

Carter told The Mercury in an interview that more meetings are planned, but they’ll be scaled back as Kansas Department of Education officials hone their recommendations to address educator shortages.

“No later than October, we’ll be presenting our findings to the State Board of Education,” Carter said. That meeting, he said, will be public, with in-person attendance and streaming options available.

Carter said that Kansas State University offered a good central location for the latest meeting, along with “a venue that allowed for breaking into groups” to discuss issues. Previous meetings took place at McPherson College and the University of Kansas.

Mercer, speaking in her office before Thursday’s meeting, mentioned a number of strategies at Kansas State University has designed to bolster the recruitment and retention of teachers. She noted the importance of making the licensing process as smooth as possible.

“When I graduated, I had a degree in family and child development,” Mercer said. “That didn’t lead to a teaching license. The only way I could obtain a license was to come back and earn a second bachelor’s degree. So, we implemented a Master of Arts in Teaching program.”

The program, she explained, is for people who have earned a bachelor’s degree but who have no education credentials.

“We have well over 200 students who can be completed in a year,” she said.

Mercer noted the recent addition of an elementary residency Master of Arts program, as well.

“That allows someone to be hired as an elementary school teacher, and they work concurrently on their degree,” she said, noting that 62 people, at last look, were signed up to start that program.

Mercer also stressed the need to recruit a more diverse group of teachers. She mentioned, among other programs, Call Me MISTER, launched at Clemson University and conducted at many universities across the country, including Kansas State University. The acronym stands for “Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models.”

“Its focus is to attract underrepresented males to classrooms, and it’s growing,” Mercer said.

Unidentified man found dead following Junction City house fire

An unidentified man is dead after a fire at a residence at 516 West 7th Street in Junction City Wednesday evening.

Junction City Fire Department was dispatched at 7:25 p.m. and was advised of a suicidal subject that was threatening to shoot himself and anyone who walked through the door.

It was unknown if any other subjects were in the residence.

Smoke was coming from the eves of the structure from the first and second floor.

Fire crews entered through the first floor for fire control, while a second crew was assigned to the to the second floor to check for fire and ventilation.

A single fatality was found on the first floor.

The Kansas State Fire Marshall was called and took over investigations once on the scene while an engine crew remained to assist with extinguishing the fire.

No first responder injuries were reported.

All three zones of Milford under warning for blue-green algae

All three zones of Milford Lake this are under a warning for blue-green algae, according to a report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Milford is one of seven lakes under a warning for the department, which means that conditions are unsafe for human and pet exposure, and contact with the waterbody should be avoided.

A harmful algal bloom may look like foam, scum or paint floating on the water and be colored blue, bright green, brown or red, KDHE said in a statement.

“Blooms can develop rapidly; if the water appears suspicious or there is decaying algae on the shore, avoid contact and keep dogs away,” officials said. “These toxins can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation of aerosols and even skin contact. “

Symptoms of exposure can include rash, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sore throat and headache.

Fort Riley student wins $1,500 gift card for good grades

Good grades have earned a Fort Riley sixth-grader a big shopping spree last week.

According to the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Reilani Perez of Fort Riley on Wednesday received a $1,500 gift card in an international sweepstakes for her academic success.

Perez said the prize will most likely go toward new books, because she loves to read.

AAFES said Reilani and her family recently came to Fort Riley from U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys. The family learned Reilani was the second-place winner in the Exchange’s You Made the Grade sweepstakes.

“Reilani loves school and is really studious,” Sujeiry, Reiliani’s mom, told WIBW. “Her dad and I are super proud of her hard work.”

The program rewards students in first through 12th grades for above-average academic achievement to inspire them to continue to strive for excellence. Military children who maintain a B average or higher can take report cards to the local Exchange for a gift card and other prizes. Students also can submit their report cards for a chance to win $2,000, $1,500, or $500 Exchange gift cards.

Perez was randomly chosen from more than 850 qualifying entries across the world. She said her favorite subjects are math and English, and she hopes one day to study space.

Abortion question boosts early Kansas voting for primary

TOPEKA — Early voting is surging in Kansas ahead of Tuesday’s statewide abortion vote, and the electorate so far is leaning more Democratic than usual.

More than 2½ times as many people had cast early ballots as of last week compared to the same point in the 2018 mid-term primary, the Kansas secretary of state’s office reported. Voters will decide Aug. 2 whether to amend the Kansas Constitution to allow the Legislature to further restrict or ban abortion.

Polling has suggested that Democrats are far stronger supporters of abortion-rights than Republicans, and Democrats so far make up 42% of the people who have cast ballots early in Kansas, compared to 44% for Republicans. Over the past 10 years, Republicans have typically cast twice as many ballots in a primary election as Democrats. Unaffiliated voters — who can’t participate in a partisan primary unless they pick a party label — have cast nearly 14% of the early votes.

The Kansas vote is the first statewide referendum on abortion policy since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June. In Douglas County, among a few Democratic strongholds in Republican-leaning Kansas and home to the liberal main University of Kansas campus, 5,800 people already have cast early in-person ballots. The normal figure for a primary is about 2,200, said County Clerk Jamie Shew, who oversees its elections.

“Very rarely do you see an event that has a clear impact like that,” said Shew, an elected Democrat.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the start of July showed that 33% of Democrats interviewed considered abortion and women’s rights a top issue, up from just 3% in 2020.

An AP-NORC poll in December showed that 69% of Democrats but only 27% of Republicans said an abortion should be possible if a woman does not want to be pregnant. The same poll said 26% of Republicans said first-trimester abortions should always be illegal.

In Kansas, Republicans have long had an advantage in voter numbers. As of July 1, they made up about 44% of the state’s 1.9 million registered voters, compared to 26% for Democrats and 29% for unaffiliated voters. Also, Democrats historically have had fewer competitive primaries than Republicans for statewide and legislative offices, and that’s true this year. Both of those historical trends normally would argue for low Democratic turnout.

The Republican-controlled Legislature put the anti-abortion measure on the ballot to overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court decision declaring access to abortion a “fundamental” right under the state constitution. The measure would add language saying the state constitution does not grant a right to abortion, allowing lawmakers to regulate it as they see fit.

Supporters wanted the question on the August ballot, arguing that it would get the attention it deserves then instead of getting lost amid Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s difficult race for reelection in the fall.

“We’re glad to see many Kansans engaging in the democratic process and hopeful that they are educating themselves about what the amendment truly is and does,” said Mackenzie Haddix, a spokesperson for the main group supporting the proposed amendment.

Even with a surge in early voting, far fewer people are likely to cast ballots in August than in the November general election. Shew sent postcards to all of his county’s unaffiliated voters, telling them how they can vote on the amendment because they are “just not used to voting in August.”

“It’s still very much an uphill battle for us because of that, but we’re encouraged by the energy and engagement that we’ve seen from voters, not just Democratic voters,” said Ashley All, a spokesperson for the main coalition opposing the measure.