Schools see sub shortage

It’s not the kind of absence often thought of when it comes to a school day, but hundreds of times a year it’s the teacher who’s missing. The protocol for a teacher-absence, however, has become less stable over time.

“It’s a significant issue,” Juneau School District Human Resources Manager Ted VanBronkhorst said. That exact “issue” is called the fill-rate, a percentage that expresses how often a substitute can be found for an absence in the district, which includes positions outside of teacher roles.

An ideal fill-rate is 100 percent, meaning for every employee absent there is someone to take their place. This year, the fill-rates for August and September were 69 and 62 percent, respectively. Those are the lowest numbers reported since the use of the Aesop in 2012, a substitute management service.

“It’s early in the school year and we try and get our in-service training out of the way,” VanBronkhorst said, explaining the high need early in the year, but those in-service trainings mean no students in the classroom. It’s on non in-service days when the fill-rate is still low that creates an issue.

VanBronkhorst said in a situation such as this, when there aren’t enough substitutes to fill the need, other teachers step up.

“Teachers are sometimes willing to accept additional students in their classroom or take a class when they are not assigned a class,” he said. “Essentially, they’re volunteering. Across the district a large number of teachers routinely pitch in.”

Principals also come to bat for missing teachers from time to time. Gastineau Elementary School principal Brenda Edwards said in her four years in her post, this year has been the most challenging when it comes to finding necessary substitutes.

Edwards has experience as a teacher before her transition to principal, and she uses it frequently.

“When we don’t have a sub, I end up in front of the class, which I really enjoy,” Edwards said. “But it has some challenges with my schedule and things I have scheduled for that day.”

There’s also an inner-support system between the principals, Edwards said, and when there is a shortage at one school principals will phone another to see if they can send a set of spare hands.

All of this is supposed to be managed by the Aesop service, but vacancies are created sometimes at the last minute and an old-fashioned phone call still has to be made occasionally by an HR representative to someone in pool of about 150 substitutes.

With all these efforts by administrators, teachers and principals to make sure kids have an instructor each day and other district roles are filled as needed, there has yet to be a 100 percent fill-rate week when in-service isn’t considered.

However, VanBronkhorst said when teachers volunteer to double-up their classroom size or when a principal sits in occasionally, he isn’t concerned about the level of instruction students receive. The person filling in has the necessary requirements to ensure the job gets done, he said.

Nevertheless, there is an issue and it needs resolving. One method the district is considering is increasing the hourly rate for substitutes. Currently a substitute is paid $10.67 to $16.67 an hour, depending on their level of experience and time on the job.

The highest level of education required for a substitute is a high school diploma. A background check is also required.

Director of Administrative Services David Means said that rate hasn’t been upped since 2008. VanBronkhorst said it’s certainly something that will be talked about in the coming weeks as the FY17 budget is developed.

Until then, VanBronkhorst said he and his staff will focus on recruitment and balancing calendars so too many people aren’t out at any one time. Although October is projected to have the lowest fill-rate on record, 71 percent, these numbers are fluid and a sudden influx could change things in an instant.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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