Districts seeing shortages in substitute teachers

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – Schools in Michigan are facing major challenges with a lack of substitutes to fill in for absent teachers. 

Chandra Madafferi, the Michigan Education Association president, said that the biggest problems stem from private contractors controlling the hiring and placement of substitute teachers. 

In the past, “substitute teachers were hired by school districts, and they were district employees. They received credit for the state pension. When school districts privatized substitute teachers, they were no longer part of the pension system,” she said.

The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.

Madafferi said privatization of subbing assignments has turned potential substitutes away.

“A lot of students who were student teaching or in college, as soon as they met the threshold to become a substitute teacher, they did. They knew when they were hired, all of that time would accumulate towards their retirement.”

Richard Todd, the superintendent of Pinckney Community Schools, said that since the COVID-19 pandemic his district has seen a shortage of substitute teachers. 

However, there has recently been a slight increase in available substitutes.

“We did try to make sure the compensation was at a place that was attractive and competitive with our neighbors, to make sure that we’re at a place where the value for the folks doing the job is appropriate,” he said.

The district is hiring building-level subs to combat the shortage as well.

Todd said there are substitute teachers working Monday through Friday to help with staffing needs. 

He added, “We have five schools in the district. We’re committed to staffing every school with what we call building subs. When we’re unable to fill a position, they’re like a floater.”

“They’re always able to jump in where needed. They’re always there, so we don’t have to call them, and they report to work every day,” Todd said.

He said that the district also uses outside hiring services when building-level substitutes are unavailable.

Districts like Pinckney Community Schools and Alpena Public Schools have resorted to using office staff as substitutes.

Alpena Superintendent David Rabbideau was unable to comment to a reporter on the lack of substitutes. According to office staff, he was in class filling in for absent teachers.

Todd said it’s all hands on deck when there is nobody else available.

“I have principals fill in, and we’ve all been teachers, including myself. So I have filled in for classes. Anybody who’s qualified will step in,” he said.

“It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, which I’m glad to say, but there’s times that my principal has to step in to take over a classroom.”

The MEA’s Madafferi said that there had been substitute staffing problems when she was a teacher.

“They had to do some pretty creative scheduling between some science teachers and math teachers because they couldn’t find enough qualified subs for long-term sub positions,” she said.

Todd said Pinckney High School has problems covering specialized classes. “You’re working with older kids and maybe different content – classes, AP calculus classes – and sometimes people may not be as comfortable with the content.” 

“They’re generally a little more comfortable working with younger kids and the elementary age curriculum,” he said.

Todd said there is hope because universities are reporting more students who will become educators – “Michigan State, Eastern Michigan University, University of Michigan, they can tell us how many kids they’ve enrolled.”

“We did hire 15 new teachers this year. We hired great teachers, and it’s actually much better,” he said.

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