In an unprecedented surge of teacher and staff shortages in California, one school district is sending flyers home in students’ lunchboxes, telling parents it’s “now hiring.” Another is seeking potential employees by hosting a job fair in a Home Depot parking lot. Elsewhere, principals are filling in as crossing guards, teachers are being offered signing bonuses and schools are moving back to online learning, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.

Now that schools have welcomed students back to classrooms, they face a new challenge: a shortage of teachers and staff the likes of which some districts say they have never seen.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the teacher and staff shortage problem, expanding it beyond the typical job roles like special education or STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teachers. Schools also need to hire staffers like tutors and special aides to make up for learning losses and more teachers to run online school for those not ready to return.

Several schools nationwide have had to shut classrooms because of a lack of teachers.

According to a June survey of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic drove them to plan to leave the profession earlier than expected. Another survey by the RAND Corp. said the pandemic exacerbated attrition, burnout and stress on teachers, who were almost twice as likely as other employed adults to feel frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depression.

The shortage is being seen nationwide and statewide here in California.

A West Contra Costa County district is considering hiring out-of-state math educators to teach online while a substitute monitors students in person. There are also openings for non-credentialed but critical staff like instructional aides, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 500 teacher vacancies, a fivefold increase from previous years.

And substitutes are also in short supply. Only about a quarter of the pool of 1,000 qualified substitutes is willing to work in Fresno Unified School District. And at Berkeley High School, a shortage of substitutes means teachers are asked to fill in during their prep periods, leading to exhaustion and burnout typically not felt at the start of a school year.

In a new twist, money is not the main problem. School districts have the funds to hire additional staff, thanks to billions in federal and state pandemic relief funding. There just aren’t people applying, despite newspaper, radio and social media ads — even flyers going home in kids lunchboxes.

San Francisco Unified School District is offering a starting bonus for 100 paraeducator jobs. Nearby West Contra Costa County Unified School District has set $6,000 signing bonuses for teachers, with a third paid out after the first month and the rest when the teacher enters year three.

Of a dozen officials interviewed in California districts by the Associated Press, only one said it was facing no shortages.

Long Beach Unified School District, the state’s fourth-largest district with over 70,000 students, anticipated the need last spring for a hiring spree of about 400 jobs.

A virtual interview team worked through the summer. Recruitment events drew hundreds of applicants, and as HR employees met hiring benchmarks, they got rewards like catered breakfasts and an ice cream truck.