The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 21, 2021 1:00 am

Search on for substitute teachers

Districts hope lower qualifications, higher pay entices

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

LuAnn Erickson thought Southwest Allen County Schools experienced the worst when classrooms were 12 substitute teachers short one day this fall.

Monday proved her wrong.

“We were short 15 subs,” said Erickson, the district's human resources director.

She hopes relief is on the way following the school board's approval Tuesday of relaxed qualifications and other changes affecting substitute teachers, who are in widespread demand.

Multiple districts, including SACS, increased substitute teacher pay rates last academic year.

“It's been a struggle,” Erickson said.

SACS' substitute teacher roster has dropped to about 50 names from more than 200 pre-pandemic, Erickson said. Because subs have the flexibility to decide when and where they work, she said, the district's ability to cover teacher absences is limited.

SACS has been short at least one substitute teacher 50 of the 62 school days through Nov. 9, Erickson said, noting Mondays and Fridays are particularly challenging. On average, she said, SACS was short four subs per day. The district has about 450 teachers.

“Everybody asks if this is COVID-related,” Erickson said.

The number of substitutes was likely affected by the pandemic, she said, but COVID-19 is having less of an impact on why teachers are absent because many SACS teachers are vaccinated and don't have to quarantine. However, she added, some teachers have to take time off to care for young children in quarantine or stay home because of a day care closure.

Erickson expects the upcoming holidays won't help as more teachers take time off and fewer substitutes are available.

“We're not alone in this,” Erickson said of the substitute situation, but “it doesn't make it any easier.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools had a 64% fill rate for subs in October, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

“Each day we need more than 100 subs in our buildings, so that leaves a lot of openings,” she said by email.

Both districts have relied on staff – including principals and support personnel – to fill the gaps. Central office employees – including those from the technology, professional learning and curriculum departments – have even pitched in at FWCS, Stockman said. The district has about 1,800 teachers.

“We just launched an internal app that shows where staffing needs are each day,” she said. “Cabinet-level administrators are notified each morning of building needs, and additional central office staff can be assigned to assist in buildings.”

Erickson hopes more people – such as retirees, stay-at-home parents and college students – will apply to substitute teach at SACS now that the “extremely flexible” position will require only a high school diploma instead of 60 college credit hours.

The district offers substitutes $90 per day and a separate $100 rate for retired district teachers.

The SACS board last week adjusted the pay model for long-term substitutes.

When certified substitutes – those with a teaching license – accept an assignment for at least 45 days, they are given a temporary contract, allowing them to receive benefits and the higher daily pay rate of $233.87.

Previously, when an assignment was fewer than 45 days, certified teachers received the regular substitute rate until they worked 15 consecutive days on the same assignment. On day 16, the $233.87 rate would kick in. Now, that pay will begin on day 11, Erickson said.

Additionally, she said, noncertified substitute teachers will receive a new daily rate of $120 after the same duration on an assignment. Their pay previously didn't increase for long-term assignments.

The changes were made to recognize the additional responsibilities, such as grading and developing lesson plans, expected of long-term subs, Erickson said.

East Allen County Schools responded to the substitute teacher shortage in September 2020 by increasing rates based on experience, spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said.

Pay increased from $85 to $90 a day for substitute teachers with a high school diploma; from $90 to $100 a day for those with at least 60 college credits; and from $100 to $110 a day for retired EACS teachers.

“EACS can always use additional substitute personnel,” Kelly said by email. “It is a great opportunity for students when they come home from college or anyone looking for a flexible schedule.”

Northwest Allen County Schools is planning job fairs from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 8 and April 23 at Carroll Middle School, spokeswoman Lizette Downey said.

Representatives from all departments will be in attendance, she said, but the first event will focus more on support staff and substitute teachers, and the other will focus on teachers.

“The need is far greater for support staff and substitutes across the board than teachers at the moment,” Downey said by email.

SACS' Erickson stressed that substitutes can make a difference in students' lives.

“They keep us in school,” she said.

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