Area districts finding there's no substitute for reliable replacement teachers

Area districts finding there's no substitute for reliable replacement teachers

Students at Champaign's two balanced-calendar schools have been in the classroom for only a little more than two weeks, but the district has already called in more than 30 substitute teachers — three at Barkstall Elementary and 30 at Kenwood.

"It's been split between professional development and sick leave," Kenwood secretary Lori Earl said. While the K-5 school has a number of qualified, reliable subs, she said, "there are never enough."

"We are always looking for more," added Ken Kleber, Unit 4's executive director of human resources.

In a district with 900-plus teachers and an additional 500 support staffers, substitutes are needed on a daily basis, though the number varies, Kleber said.

But he and officials from other area districts, both large and small, said finding enough replacements has become a challenge amid a substitute-teacher shortage in the state.

"First and foremost, the teacher shortage needs to be addressed," said Westville schools Superintendent Seth Miller, adding "the substitute-teacher shortage is a symptom of the fact that there aren't enough certified teachers."

According to Miller, Westville was still scrambling to fill about 10 positions two weeks before students' first day on Aug. 20.

"Typically, it used to be harder to fill positions like special education, math or science, or foreign language," Miller said. "Now, we're in a situation where it's across the board.

"We even have some regular elementary-education teaching positions that are still open," he said. "In our situation, we've had a job posted and have gone weeks without seeing a new applicant."

Other districts are in the same boat. If they haven't filled their openings by the start of school, officials said they'll have to ask retirees and regular subs to step in on a long-term basis while they continue to search for permanent teachers.

"That just creates a trickle-down effect," Miller said, adding that it also creates a hardship when a bad flu season hits and the people they rely on to cover for teachers who are sick or need time off are already in the classroom.

M-S joins $100-a-day club

This past summer, the state passed legislation to address those shortages. Among other things, it:

— Provides reciprocity for comparable and valid educator licenses from other states, making it easier for out-of-state applicants to teach in Illinois.

— Creates a short-term license so people who have an associate degree or have earned at least 60 hours toward a degree from an accredited institution of higher education can sub.

— Allows teachers with lapsed professional educator's licenses to qualify for a substitute-teaching license.

— Increases the number of days retired teachers can work from 100 to 120 without jeopardizing their pension benefits.

"Those are big changes, and we want to promote them so we can increase our pool," said Hoopeston Area Superintendent Suzi Hesser. "We'll take them whether they have a bachelor's degree or an associate degree, as long as they will be effective with our students."

This year, several districts increased their daily base pay for substitute teachers to be more competitive. They include DeLand-Weldon, Fisher and Villa Grove, whose rates went from $80 to $90, and Mahomet-Seymour, whose base went from $90 to $100, making it one of eight districts in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties to offer $100 or more.

"We also modified the long-term pay, so that once you work one long-term position, you start at the higher rate on Day 1 of your next long-term position in the same school year," said Nicole Rummel, director of instruction at M-S.

Urbana adds incentives

Rummel said her district currently has about 70 subs.

"But many have days they can't work," she said, adding some of them sub in other districts, as well.

"There are very few days when we have 100 percent of our open sub positions filled," Rummel said. "We typically fill all positions if we can keep the absences to less than 20. Once we start to have 20 to 30 openings, we're filling 85 to 95 percent of the positions. We had one day last year during flu season where we only filled 65 percent of the openings."

When there aren't enough subs, Rummel and other officials said administrators and certified aides have covered classes and teachers have stepped in during their planning periods. Other times, classes have been combined or divided into other classrooms, and teachers have canceled professional development.

In all districts, substitute teachers and other support staff can earn more after a number of consecutive days. And in some districts, teachers and aides who sub in the district from which they have retired are rewarded with higher pay.

In May, the Urbana school board bumped its daily rate from $105 to $110 and created a four-tier system of incentives designed to reward those who work the most.

Prior to holding a job fair for substitute teachers and aides this month, Urbana had about 200 in its pool, said Human Resources Director Jacinda Crawmer. While that seems more than adequate to fill the district's need for an average of 80 on any given day, she said it's deceiving.

"The problem is there hasn't been a lot of consistency," Crawmer said, adding some filled in on a "one time here, one time there" basis.Full-time subs in Rantoul

The tiered system aims to encourage existing and new subs to work on a regular basis and provide more consistency for the students. If subs work 15 days in a quarter, their daily rate will increase $5, allowing them to earn as much as $125 a day.

"You can also bump down," Crawmer said, adding they would never drop below $110.

On Thursday, the Rantoul City Schools board will vote on whether to increase its daily rate from $115 to $120, making it the highest in the five-county area.

"The last time we had an increase was in 2013," said Superintendent Michelle Ramage, who said the district typically needs between three and 10 subs a day, or as many as 20 to 25 during flu season.

Ramage will also recommend increasing the daily rate for substitute teaching assistants from $75 to $85; and establishing rates for retired teachers at $130 a day and retired teaching assistants at $95 a day.

Long-term subs — those who have worked 10 consecutive days in the same position — would make $125 a day, up $5, and full-time/full-year subs would make $140 plus benefits.

"This is something new we're trying this year," Ramage said of the full-time sub, which will be placed at JW Eater Junior High and used in needed classrooms. "They could be part of the staff. They're doing the lesson planning. I'd love to have one at every building, maybe a couple at the junior high."

Officials said they also try to offer other incentives — everything from paid trainings once or even twice a year to free school lunches.

"Last year was a pretty good year for us, but we also had great teacher attendance," said Arcola schools Superintendent Tom Mulligan. However, "the previous several years were a challenge. Our biggest focus has been on providing a lot of support when we do get a substitute so they feel supported, confident and will be more likely to come back."

Added Miller: "It's crucial now more than ever that schools develop a good relationship with their subs, that students are very welcoming and that we're doing a good job of training them and setting them up to succeed."

One day's pay

Which school districts offer the highest (and lowest) daily rates for substitute teachers? For answers, staff writer Noelle McGee surveyed 35 districts in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties.

$115

Rantoul city schools, which will consider a $5 increase to the area's top payday at a meeting Thursday.

$110

Urbana.

$100

Champaign, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Gifford, Mahomet-Seymour, Oakwood, Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Salt Fork.

$95

Danville, Heritage, Monticello and Rossville.

$90

Bement, Cerro Gordo, DeLand-Weldon, Fisher, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Hoopeston, Ludlow, Prairieview-Ogden, St. Joseph-Ogden HS, Thomasboro, Tolono, Villa Grove and Westville.

$85

Arcola, Armstrong-Ellis, Armstrong Township HS, Arthur, Bismarck-Henning, Potomac and Rantoul Township HS.

$80

St. Joseph Grade School, Tuscola.

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