'Substitutes needed!' Lack of subs cause local school districts to bump pay

<p><p>There’s no substitute for a good teacher, and that’s exactly the problem these days. Based on raw numbers and comments from local educators, the situation is critical.</p></p><p><p>“The substitute teacher shortage is real and adversely impacting school districts,” said Robert Roettger, superintendent of the Cheney School District.</p></p><p><p>For a variety of reasons, the pool of qualified substitutes has shriveled to the point where some districts are crying for help.</p></p><p><p>The good news? Becoming a substitute is easier than ever.</p></p><p><p>“Substitutes needed!” screams the home page of the Spokane Public Schools website. The website goes on to explain the relatively easy steps – provided you have at least a bachelor’s degree of any kind – to become an emergency substitute teacher and earn at least $150 per day.</p></p><p><p>The reasons for the shortage are varied, but most are a byproduct of the pandemic, which will hit the two-year mark in March.</p></p><p><p>Many substitutes are retired teachers who may be at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications and may feel uncomfortable returning to school buildings. Nationally, some administrators say they’re having an especially hard time finding substitutes for elementary schools, since those students are all unvaccinated.</p></p><p><p>And like full-time teachers, substitutes must deal with the day-to-day rituals of the pandemic: mask mandates, COVID-19 testing protocols, physical distancing requirements and handwashing and sanitizing stations.</p></p><p><p>A national survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in early October found that 77% of principals and district leaders said they have struggled to hire a sufficient number of substitute teachers.</p></p><p><p>More administrators pointed to difficulties hiring subs than any other staffing position.</p></p><p><p>Prior to the pandemic, the national average fill rate – that is, the percentage of teacher absences covered by a substitute – was about 80%. That rate currently sits between 50% and 60%.</p></p><p><p>“There are many days when staff members are covering for one another within a building,” Roettger said. “On many occasions, especially at the secondary level, classroom teachers have covered classes when there is an unfilled absence (during their prep period).”</p></p><p><p>At Spokane Public Schools, the district prefers to maintain a substitute pool of 700 to 800, “with 400 to 500 working and taking jobs,” said Jodi Harmon, chief human resource officer for the district of almost 30,000 students.</p></p><p><p>“Currently we have 312 certificated subs,” Harmon said. Of those, about 100 have picked up long-term positions in Spokane and other districts. Another 100 “are not currently working at all,” Harmon said.</p></p><p><p>At the Mead School District, according to Public Information Officer Todd Zeidler, “we’ve had to utilize other certificated staff, including principals and other district personnel to cover classrooms.”</p></p><p><p>The substitute shortage is caused by high demand and low supply. Teachers are out more frequently than usual because they’ve been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 and must quarantine, or because their own children have to quarantine.</p></p><p><p>Also, school districts across the country are dealing with unfilled teaching positions carried over from last year. District leaders usually prioritize having substitutes cover long-term absences, which means they lack subs to cover the short-term absences.</p></p><p><p>The large number of two-week absences is unique to the pandemic and creates more logistical challenges.</p></p><p><p>Often, the substitutes who are interested in longer-term jobs are already covering a teacher’s classroom. The available substitutes might not be able to work every day, which means districts will have to piece together a schedule for the two weeks, creating a disjointed experience for students.</p></p><p><p>Also, private businesses are aggressively recruiting workers, and substitute teaching has historically been a low-paid job with no benefits. Now, someone could feasibly make more money working at Starbucks.</p></p><p><p>Districts are fighting back. At Spokane Public Schools, the daily rate for a certificated sub was increased this year, from $132 per day to $150.</p></p><p><p>For those working in special education, daily pay went up from $142 to $165. Mead and Cheney also have boosted salaries for subs from $130 a day to $155.</p></p><p><p>It’s also easier than ever to become an emergency substitute. Rules vary by district, but in Spokane the following groups are eligible:</p></p><p><ul><li>Community members who have a current bachelor’s degree and have experience working with children.</li><li>Current parents who have a bachelor’s degree.</li><li>Certificated teachers from another state that are not able to switch their current certificate to the state of Washington.</li></ul></p><p><p>Application can be made to the posting on the <a href=”https://www.spokaneschools.org/beasub” target=”_blank”>district website</a>. Once the application is on file with Substitute Services, the prospective substitute will be contacted by a human resources specialist.</p></p><p><p>However, the emergency substitute applications can take up to four to six weeks to process with OSPI.</p></p>