BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — School districts in the twin cities are more than a month into the school year, but many are still short-staffed.

Both Unit 5 and District 87 are competing for substitute teachers, teaching assistants and even maintenance employees.

Unit 5 is bringing applicants to them; the district held its second Walk In Wednesday hiring fair for those interested in paraprofessional openings and sub teaching positions. Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle said the pandemic made the struggle of recruiting new employees worse.

“A lot of districts were probably struggling to find substitute teachers and teaching assistants even as probably five years ago,” Weikle said.

Unit 5 started the school year with over 60 openings for para-professionals (teaching assistants) ad various substitute positions. Weikle said Walk-In Wednesday is designed to bring applicants into the district office, meet staff and feel welcome.

“It’s really been very successful, we’ve had a lot of people and it’s just more convenient,” Weikle said.

Tiffani Creamean said she saw the district post on social media about the hiring event and was looking for a way to get back into education.

“I was actually a cosmetology teacher before the pandemic so I wanted to kind of go a different direction. I’m a student at Heartland now and I thought this would be perfect in the meantime,” Creamean said.

Creamean said the process didn’t take very long.

“It was very easy, they took us right in and showed us everything we needed to do step-by-step and they’re right there when I had questions,” Creamean said.

Bloomington District 87 also has a need for substitute teachers, para-pros and other support staff. Assistant Superintendent Sherrilyn Thomas said as of Wednesday, they still have six full-time teaching positions open at various grade levels.

“It’s definitely not common, it’s like everywhere else there’s just a shortage when you’ve got fewer applicants,” Thomas said.

Thomas said a declining interest in the teaching field was a problem even before the pandemic.

“You want your district to be attractive for teacher candidates to come to and so that’s going to be competitive salaries and benefits, but it’s also not just about the money; it’s the environment they’re walking into,” Thomas said.

Molly Allen, Assistant Regional Superintendent for the Regional Office of Education #17 said it’s a trend the ROE is seeing in all districts within its four-county region.

On Thursday, Oct 6, the office is hosting a sub fair at the Illinois State University Alumni Center. Interested applicants can get walked through the licensing process with ROE staff.