Fayette County Public Schools has a shortage of substitute teachers, and one that is “critical” in the area of special education. A total of 163 special education substitute positions went unfilled in October alone.
“It’s a leaky bucket kind of situation to keep people,” said Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, a teachers’ group. Hiler said there are about 40 to 50 substitute teaching positions in all subjects per day going unfilled and “impacting instruction for kids.”
At its Nov. 21 meeting, the Fayette County Board of Education voted to pay special education substitute teachers and special education substitute paraeducators, who help students, an additional $20 per day.
To substitute teach in Fayette County on assignments less than 20 days, a person must have at least 64 college credit hours in any subject and must apply to the state for a one-year emergency certificate for substitute teaching. Substitute teachers without a regular teaching certificate generally earn $84 per day. Assignments of 20 days or more require a regular teaching certificate, said Kiyon Massey, associate director for human resources. Those with a regular teaching certificate generally earn $109 per day.
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Hiler said the extra pay is a great initiative, but the special education substitute shortage “is just a small drop in the bucket of jobs that aren’t being filled.” Hiler said that the substitute shortage is affecting all types of classes in the district, not just special education.
She said if the extra pay for special education substitutes lure more of them to work, “we’d like to expand it so we can have more impact everywhere for our regular classroom teachers.”
The substitute teacher shortage is a national problem, Hiler said. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in June that Philadelphia-area school administrators struggle to find ways to cope with a shortage of substitutes unlike anything they have ever faced. Schools in Michigan and New York report similar situations.
An improving economy and competitive job market are making substitute teacher positions less inviting, educators say. Hiler said retired teachers who substitute likely want to set their own schedule. People who are new graduates from teacher education programs might only substitute until they get a permanent job.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk at the November meeting spoke to what is happening in Fayette County special education classrooms as a result of the shortage. Caulk said specialists who should be working with students are called into service as substitute teachers, classes are split up and teachers are being asked to give up their planning periods.
In varied subjects and classrooms, said Hiler, teachers report losing their planning period to cover for a colleague “or they get 10 more kids today because a colleague wasn’t there.”
Meribeth Gaines, the district’s associate director of teacher and leader effectiveness, explained to the school board that the special education shortage was having a direct impact on instruction.
Paraeducators generally earn $10.90 an hour, Massey said. For assignments less than 20 days, they are required to have a high school diploma or a GED. For assignments of 20 days or more, paraeducators have to have at least 48 college credit hours or pass the state paraeducator test, she said.
Gaines’ presentation was accompanied by a school board document titled “substitute critical shortage incentive,” which said “schools across the district have multiple special education classrooms without a substitute teacher and/or substitute paraeducator.”
Giving substitutes who accept the special education assignments an incentive of an additional $20 a day will help with instruction “and safety in the classroom,” the document said.
The extra pay will cost the school district about $356,000 for an entire school year.
Caulk, in an interview Monday, said that in some cases, substitutes were needed because teachers were in professional-development training.
Fayette school board member Doug Barnett said he thinks the extra pay is needed because “these substitutes are being asked to work with the most vulnerable children we have.”
“We want to try this strategy to see how effective it is,” Caulk said. School district officials think they will know by spring.
Hiler, the teacher’s association president, said there are ample people in Fayette County who meet the substitute teacher qualifications.
“It’s just trying to get the subs to work and working in specific schools and positions,” Hiler said.
“I think we do better than most,” said Bryne Jacobs, principal of Lafayette High School. Jacobs said he had 252 staff absences in November; only 33 were unfilled. Jacobs had 12 substitute teachers in the building on Wednesday and no unfilled substitute positions.
“What we’ve worked to build over time is relationships with subs in the community that we reach out to directly when we have positions unfilled,” Jacobs said. “It’s becoming incumbent upon the schools to connect with people who they can develop relationships with.”