School districts scramble to fill substitute lists for teachers

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 9/9/20

Long a staple of public education, substitute teachers are in short supply this school year, prompting school district administrators to scramble to build a roster of faculty fill-ins as they …

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School districts scramble to fill substitute lists for teachers

Posted

Long a staple of public education, substitute teachers are in short supply this school year, prompting school district administrators to scramble to build a roster of faculty fill-ins as they navigate through the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Districts in the region are boosting substitute teacher pay as a way to attract classroom replacements. State government also recognized the shortage and has relaxed its requirement to be a substitute teacher. More on that in a bit.

As for increasing the pay, Gasconade County R-1 Superintendent Scott Smith tomorrow night is expected to ask that district’s Board of Directors to authorize an increase from the existing $85-a-day, a level that has become one of the lower rates of substitute teacher pay in the region.

Gasconade County R-2 earlier this year raised its pay for subs to $100 for certified teachers and about $80 for non-certified. Maries County R-2 at Belle also bumped its pay for substitutes.

So, districts are having mixed results in attracting substitute teachers.

“Right now, we have been able to obtain a few substitutes,” said Smith last week in an interview with The Gasconade County Republican.

Providing more money could be a key in building a roster of substitutes, he said. “I'll be taking to the board a request to increase the rate of pay,” the administrator said, adding that R-1 will be taking other measures to recruit substitute teachers.

Leading the way on substitute teacher pay is the St. Clair School District, which recently advertised pay rates of $125 for subs holding a teaching certificate and slightly less for non-certified teachers.

“I think, right now, we’re the highest in the area,” said Superintendent Kyle Kruse, the former top administrator of the New Haven School District. The higher pay being offered and an advertising effort is paying off, he said. “I think that has helped,” Kruse said.

Also, the St. Clair district has reached out to churches and community organization as part of its recruiting effort, with some success, he said. “We’re headed in the right way,” Kruse said.

In Gasconade County R-2, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeri Kay Hardy said efforts to bolster the list of subs are having success. “We have already had two substitute-training days,” she told the Republican. The raise in pay has been a factor in adding substitutes, she added, noting that most recently five people were added to the list of substitutes.

Who can be a substitute teacher?

The longtime requirement in Missouri has been that anyone with 60 college hours of credit can be a sub. But many — if not most — districts rely on retired teachers to fill out their roster of subs. But, as Kruse pointed out, many of those retired teachers fall into the “at-risk” category regarding coronavirus infection and that is prompting many longtime substitute teachers to opt out of being available this year.

“I know for sure some are,” said R-1’s Smith, referring to some his district’s potential substitutes.

Hardy, also, noted that a coronavirus concern among the older would-be substitutes in R-2 has led some to stay off the roster this school year. “In some cases, that is what we're finding,” she said.

Because of the expected shortage of subs, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) persuaded the State Board of Education last month to relax is requirement for subs. Beginning today, an “alternate route” for subs takes effect: Anyone 21 or older with a high school diploma can be a substitute teacher, subject to passing a 20-hour state exam and passing a background check.

Area administrators have varied reactions to the move by DESE.

“That’s a very big move,” said Hardy, who acknowledged that something needed to be done at the state level to deal with a teaching shortage at both the full-time and substitute levels. “There’s a teaching shortage across the United States,” Hardy said.

Kruse said the DESE move might help ease the substitute teacher shortage. “My personal opinion is that it’s a lot more about the person than it is about the 60 hours of college credit,” he said. “I think it’s more important to hire people who enjoy working with the kids,” he said.

With the substitute teacher shortage so widespread, Hardy said she is concerned districts in the region will wind up in a bidding war, which could further strain a district’s financial condition. She pointed to St. Clair’s pay rate as an example of trying to get ahead in the hunt for subs. “They’re having to compete just like we are and R-1 is,” the R-2 assistant superintendent said.

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