The Durham Board of Education on Thursday, April 20 will receive recommendations to improve the school district’s process for recruiting and retaining substitute teachers.
A lack of available substitute teachers has been a big point of contention for full-time teachers in recent months because there are too few of them available, forcing full-time teachers to fill in when colleagues are out sick, attending conferences for professional development or tending to family matters.
The teachers contend the lack of available substitutes causes them to lose valuable planning periods to prepare lessons for students or to talk with counselors, social workers or principals about a student’s particular needs.
At a recent school board work session, Alexandria Geiger, a science teacher at Northern High School, told school board members that she’s had to cover classes for colleagues 11 times in March because a substitute didn’t pick up the job.
“March had 23 working days, meaning I served as a substitute for at least part of my planning for almost half of the days I worked last month,” Geiger said.
A tough two months
The Durham Public Schools administration’s report shows that February and March were indeed especially tough months.
Teacher absences required 11,154 substitute teachers compared to 18,779 the previous five months of the school year.
That means 37 percent of the 29,933 subs needed since September occurred in those two months.
A more important number for teachers such as Geiger is how many of the request for subs between September and March went unfilled.
Of the 29,933 needed subs during those months, 22,990 were filled while 6,943 — 23 percent — went unfilled.
During February and March — school leaders have cited an aggressive flu season for teacher absences — nearly 32 percent of requests for substitute teachers went unfilled.
Teachers have also missed what administrators said are a “high number” of days to due to professional development and they point to “high absenteeism” on Fridays as among concerns moving forward.
Overall, from September to March, 76.80 percent of requests for subs have been filled while 23.20 percent have not been filled.
Payroll schedule an issue
It can take up to 60 days for a substitute teacher to get paid after beginning to work for DPS.
School officials have cited that fact as one of the reasons the school district finds it difficult to attract and retain reliable substitutes, who are paid $103 per day if licensed and $80 per day if not licensed.
According to DPS administrators, the district’s Human Resource Department is working with the Finance Department to revise the payroll schedule beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
School board Chairman Mike Lee said he would like to see substitute teachers get paid every two weeks.
“That’s an immediate paycheck that can help us recruit the best people for substitute teaching positions,” Lee said. “Those are the kinds of ideas we’re going to be looking out for on Thursday.”
The administration will present some “out-of-the-box” ideas for the board to consider as part of the district’s efforts to attract more subs.
Those ideas include increasing pay by $25 a day, which would cost DPS about $975,000 more a year assuming 39,000 substitute assignments per year.
Also, the administration will pitch the idea of creating permanent substitute positions at each school.
“Since we need a sub virtually every day at every school, why not have that position filled at all times?” administrators asked as part of its report.
Officials said the full-time sub positions could be filled by two or more people based on the size of the school.
Such a program wouldn’t cost the district additional money because DPS is already spending it on subs.
Other ideas include an improved communications planned targeting new retirees who might consider subbing after their six month waiting period has expired, asking community partners to consider making subbing their preferred school service project, requiring district central office staff to sub twice a year and paying teachers for covering classrooms.
And DPS hopes to improve accountability for its substitute teacher program by designating an employee in the Human Resources Department to manage the process and to assign a back-up staff person to take over those duties when the designated employee is out-of-the office.