By Dedra Cordle
The South-Western City Schools District will modify its education requirements for substitute teachers in order to ensure proper staffing levels.
At its meeting on Nov. 15, the board of education unanimously approved a resolution which temporarily allows the district to waive post-secondary requirements for all substitute teacher candidates.
Under the terms of the resolution, the district can now hire those holding high school degrees or its equivalent to serve in this capacity for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year.
The action was permitted by the state’s legislative body which last month gave its approval for boards of education to modify post-secondary requirements, thus allowing more hiring flexibility as its pertains to substitute teaching staffing levels. Senate Bill 1 was passed by emergency declaration, making this temporary modification to state law go into effect immediately.
District officials say while this move may seem like a bold choice, bold action was needed in order to increase its substitute teacher numbers.
“It has been a real challenge for us to not only attract but to maintain proper substitute teacher staffing levels,” said Dr. Jamie Lusher, the district’ deputy superintendent in an interview after the meeting. “Every school district across the state is experiencing this shortage and what we are now doing is competing against each other to hire staff.
“We believe by taking this action, it will help the district increase staffing levels so we can continue to offer uninterrupted education for our students and our staff.”
While the district will waive post-secondary requirements for substitute teacher candidates, it will maintain its “rigorous” vetting process while conducting interviews for the potential candidates.
“They will still have to pass all of the background checks we conduct,” said Lusher.
In addition to the background checks, the candidates will have to obtain a non-renewable temporary substitute teaching license through the state board of education. The district can provide assistance with that step, if needed.
Lusher said the district will also be looking for candidates who have experience working with children (though it is not an excluding factor) and people who have “high moral character.”
“We want candidates who have integrity, who have a history of giving back to the community.”
She said the district has been reaching out to local child care agencies and churches to aid in the recruitment of potential candidates.
According to Lusher, the district had to take this unprecedented action as it prepares for the upcoming season that often sees the highest number of call-outs due to illnesses.
“We have to prepare as best as we can for staffing shortages,” she said.
She said substitute teaching staffing levels within the district have always met the 80 percent threshold but that number has severely declined with the introduction of COVID-19 last year.
“We never had an issue pre-COVID reaching that level but now we sometimes struggle to get to that percentage.”
She said the staff at each building has had to get creative on occasion due to substitute teaching staffing shortages, but added the district needs to do more to ensure that education is not negatively impacted by the lack.
“I do believe the action that was approved by the board will help us increase those levels,” Lusher said.
This is not the only action the board has undertaken recently to attract substitute teacher candidates. At its meeting on Sept. 27, the board unanimously approved an increase of the daily substitute teaching rates of $155 for retired SWCS teachers, $145 for sub pool substitute teachers, and $130 for day-to-day substitute teachers. The board also approved lump sum payments of $500, $750, and $1,000 for substitute teachers after working at the district for 50 days, 100 days, and 150 days, respectively.
Lusher said those incentives will be rolled over for the new crop of candidates who apply to be a substitute teacher in the district.
For more information on how to apply, visit the district’s website at swcsd.us.