Fayette County faces ‘critical shortage’ of special ed substitute teachers

Fayette County schools Superintendent Manny Caulk.
Fayette County schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. File photo

Fayette County Public Schools has a “critical shortage” of special education substitute teachers, so much so that the need for 163 special education substitutes went unfilled in October alone, officials said.

What is happening instead, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk said during a recent school board meeting, is that 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.

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 a day. Substitute teachers generally earn $109 a day. Paraeducators generally earn $10.90 an hour, school officials said.

Meribeth Gaines, the district’s associate director of teacher and leader effectiveness, explained the situation to the school board and said the lack of substitutes directly affects instruction.

A school board document titled “substitute critical shortage incentive,” which explained the need for the vote, 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.

By spring, district officials said, they should know whether the extra pay was effective.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears