It is a problem many school districts across the state are facing: a shortage of substitute teachers.
It is a problem that is beyond the control of many districts because as Sedalia School District 200 Superintendent Steve Triplett said during the Oct. 29 Board of Education meeting, “Even teachers sometimes don’t feel well or need to take a day off.”
Sedalia 200 has both faced and addressed the issue for several years but there seems to be no easy solution to the problem as more and more districts are competing for fewer and fewer substitutes for certified and non-certified staff members.
In Sedalia on an average day the district employs 11 to 15 substitutes in both teaching (certified) and non-certified areas such as para-professionals, food service workers and administrative positions, according to assistant superintendent Dr. Nancy Scott.
“It’s about even as far as how many of each,” Scott recently commented. “Different times of the year is different for the average. Our daily would run from 11-15.”
This year the district is facing another problem as they have 13 long-term subs who are filling in for teachers either on maternity or medical leave.
“This year has been very high,” Scott said. “We always have some, but 13 is not the average.”
According to Board Regulation 4321 dealing with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1973, Sedalia 200 allows for “Eligible employees to use up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave for family and medical reasons. Up to 26 work weeks may be granted for covered events to those serving in the Armed Forces.”
To be a substitute teacher in Missouri, an individual must have a sub certificate from the state (60 hours or more), be fingerprinted and be able to do the job.
A good substitute, according to Scott, is “someone who cares about students, has knowledge of basic skills, good discipline strategies and is willing to work hard.”
For many outsiders, the answer seems simple: use retired teachers as substitutes. In reality, the answer is more complex.
Retired teachers can only sub a total of 550 hours per year according to law. If they go past this amount, it affects their retirement benefits.
As Scott said, “We would love to have them sub all year, but legally they can’t.”
To that end, the district discussed a new concept at its October board meeting which may offer a solution. The board discussed hiring December college graduates to become members of a substitute pool for the district.
“Any time you have subs who know how the building is run helps to keep things consistent for the students,” Scott said. “Consistency is very important for our students.
“I think this could possibly benefit the district by hiring those student teachers who are already in our district to continue providing a sub that knows Sedalia 200 expectations,” she continued. “Also, it gives us a preview on what kind of teacher these individuals would be. We would be able to hire the best of the best.”
As Scott explained, when districts have to wait until February, March or April to hire, many other schools have already attracted the top teachers.
“Since we have a need for several subs a day, this would not replace those who are regular subs for us,” Scott added. “It would allow us to fill all positions.”
Good substitutes are sought by all districts.
Katherine Noe is one such person.
Noe received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Truman State University. Later she went back and took required classes to teach. Noe has her master’s degree in education as well as an ed specialist degree. Noe taught junior high and high school business and junior high school math in two different school systems before her retirement in 2014.
“I found that I missed working with students so decided to sub,” Noe said. “The first year I subbed I worked for two school districts but most of my hours were spent in Sedalia so I withdrew my name from the other district at the start of the next school year.”
This is the sixth year she has subbed in Sedalia, working in all the district’s buildings except early childhood.
“The district is short on subs so I go where I am needed,” Noe said of where she prefers to sub. “I have met a lot of wonderful administrators, faculty, staff and students by doing so. In fact, I have students in classes this year that this is the sixth year they have been in a class I have subbed for.”
There are benefits and drawbacks to being a substitute, according to Noe.
“I get the opportunity to watch students grow and mature and I don’t have to plan lessons, go to meetings, put grades into the computer, etc.,” she said. “The drawbacks are not knowing how the teachers run things in their classes (elementary students will let you know that).
“There are also the students that think because you are a sub that they really don’t have to listen to you and follow your directions,” she continued. “Sedalia is a great district to sub in and I have found that if I have a question or need some help with something there is always help available.”
During the 2014-15 school year, Sedalia 200 implemented a sick leave incentive program for staff members. Teachers and staff members are paid at the end of the year for any unused sick days. Teachers do not lose the sick days they are paid for. During the program's initial year, the district saved $13,200 in substitute pay and saw 207 fewer sick days used by staff. Scott noted the district has been able to reduce the amount of subs each year the policy has been in effect, adding it “has been of benefit to the district.”
Like other districts, Sedalia 200 is also considering the pay rate for substitutes. The issue is expected to be discussed during the December board meeting.
The Associated Press reported last week the Center School District is increasing its pay for substitute teachers to help address the shortage in the Kansas City metro.
“Michael Weishaar, interim superintendent of the Center School District, said the district decided to increase its pay rate for substitutes from $100 a day to $110 over the summer,” the article states. “But the district decided to bump up pay to $130 a day just a few months into the school year.”
The move was done to make the district more attractive to “not only substitute teachers but other individuals who are outside of education," Weishaar said.
Weishaar noted in the article the number of available substitutes has declined gradually over the last few years.