The pool of substitute teachers is shrinking as unemployment continues to dip, and school divisions are evaluating a range of options to improve it from improving pay to changing policies.
“It’s a serious issue,” said Mitsuko Clemmons-Nazeer, assistant director of human resources for the city schools. “We need to fix it to help teachers.”
Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County budgeted this year to improve pay for substitute teachers and to make other changes to the program in order to make the job more enticing.
The shortage of substitute teachers has ripple effects throughout local schools as teachers are asked to cover classes, pushing their planning time and other work to after the school day.
Albemarle County pays substitutes $85 a day and $42.50 for half a day. Long-term substitutes, meaning they are in a classroom for more than two weeks, make $222.76 a day. Charlottesville pays $13 an hour and $ 31.43 an hour for long-term substitutes.
Charlottesville City Schools budgeted $22,415 this year to raise the day rate by $6 for one-time substitutes and $13 for long-term positions.
Albemarle County rolled out a $123,701 budget package this school year to improve the substitute program including hiring a permanent substitute to float between schools and incentive retired teachers to come back to the classroom.
The substitute proposals was one of two in the county schools’ budget aimed at addressing critical staffing shortages. The other $645,000 initiative focused on school bus drivers.
Albemarle County also is in the early stages of finding a way to compensate teachers when they get pulled into substituting, said Clare Keiser, assistant superintendent for organizational development and human resource leadership.
“We know a lot of [principals] are having to use teachers in their building to cover classes,” she said, adding that when teachers are constantly asked to substitute teach, that can hamper morale.
In Albemarle County, about 92% of positions posted in advance are filled. But when schools don’t have notice that a teacher is going to be out of school, about 72% are filled, on average.
In Charlottesville, about 70% of absences are covered by a substitute, Clemmons-Nazeer said.
Clemmons-Nazeer said the division is not looking at additional compensation for those who are asked to substitute.
“But we’re really working hard on finding a sub first and not taking that well-needed time away from teachers,” she said.
The floater is worked in Greer Elementary, Jouett Middle and Albemarle High. Kesier said those schools were chosen because they have needs every day.
“I think having a floating sub like that is really powerful and helpful, but it helps with a sliver of the need,” Keiser said.
Keiser said the ideal pool would be three substitutes for every teacher. Albemarle County has 1,344 teachers this school year, according to the annual human resources report. The current ratio is 1:1.
Under the budget provision, retired teachers would make $125 per day. Additionally, teachers with 35 or more years of experience could earn a semester bonus for having up to five days of unused leave.
“Having folks who know our students, know our schools, know Albemarle County is really powerful,” Keiser of the retired teachers. “We have had some interest in that. I had these visions of hundreds of people saying sign me up.”
That didn’t quite happen. Keiser said about 25 teachers are taking advantage of the incentive, but she’s expecting that group to grow over time.
Keiser didn’t have numbers on the bonus plan because the semester was not over yet.
To improve the pool, Charlottesville recently lowered the requirements to be a substitute. Now, applicants need to complete a minimum of one year of college or 30 hours of coursework. Previously, the cut off was 60 hours or two years.
“We have a number of talented individuals, very intelligent individuals in this community, and sometimes qualifications doesn’t work to our advantage or limit who might be considered,” Clemmons-Nazeer said.
In Albemarle, short-term substitutes must have a high school diploma or GED. For long-term positions, the individual must be eligible for or hold a valid Virginia teaching license with an endorsement in the area in which they are substituting.
In addition the policy change, Clemmons-Nazeer said the division has added an orientation to its monthly schedule and changed how they welcomed interested substitutes to the schools.
“We’ve started with hosting some orientations at some of our hard-to-fill schools,” she said. “Part of the orientation includes a physical tour of the school, and going into classrooms and seeing what the experience could actually be like.”
The division has already seeing success with some of these changes.
“For example, Walker Upper Elementary, which tended to be a hard-to-fill and one of our hardest places to fill subs, has experienced 100% fill rates there just recently,” she said.
She also credited leaders at Walker and other schools with spending more time on recruiting substitute teachers rather than relying on a system to find people.
At the division-level, staff members cleaned up the list of substitutes to improve the accuracy of who can substitute teacher and when.
The turnaround from when someone applies to orientation can be quick, Clemmons-Nazeer said. However, the required background checks are taking much longer to go through, which is holding up the onboarding process.
The school divisions also are planning to recruit parents who might have an interest in working in the classroom in additional to other recruitment efforts.
“But we also need to make sure that our folks are not over-using leave as well,” Keiser said. “That’s a challenge, too.”
Keiser and Clemmons-Nazeer didn’t have data for this year on teacher absenteeism. A new time and attendance system for county employees is expected to yield much better data on how teachers are using their personal and sick leave.
Previously, teachers used paper slips to request time off, making division-wide data collection difficult. Keiser said the new system, which started in October, already is having an effect on how supervisors are talking with employees about leave.
“You can have a different conversation with somebody when it is real-time data,” she said.
Charlottesville teachers on a 10-month contract receive three days of personal leave each year while in Albemarle, 10-month employees receive two days.
Clemmons-Nazeer said that moving forward, she wants to understand better why absences exist in the first place and look at supervisor training for managing absences.