Amid teacher and student absences, Austin ISD accepting substitutes with less education, upping pay

The Austin ISD board of trustees discussed teacher and student absences during its Jan. 13 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Austin ISD)
The Austin ISD board of trustees discussed teacher and student absences during its Jan. 13 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Austin ISD)

The Austin ISD board of trustees discussed teacher and student absences during its Jan. 13 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Austin ISD)

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include new information about pay increases for substitute teachers.

As Austin ISD faces rapid COVID-19 spread among students and staff, the district is making several changes to attract more substitutes.

To address teacher absences due to COVID-19, the district will now allow substitute teachers with fewer than 60 college credit hours to teach, which is in line with some surrounding districts’ requirements, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said. The district will also provide a $25 daily bonus for substitutes every day they work while the county is in COVID-19 risk Rtage 5 and a monthly $300 bonus for substitutes who work every business day of a given month when the county is in stage 4 or 5. According to a press release from the district, this means a substitute teacher could earn up to $225 a day.

Per a district press release, the current base compensation rates are:

  • $165 a day for permanent teacher substitutes at underperforming schools

  • $150 a day for certified substitute teachers

  • $140 for degreed substitute teachers

  • $130 for substitute teachers with 60-plus college hours

  • $115 for substitute teachers who have fewer than 60 college credit hours

Student absences

During a work session Jan. 13, Elizalde answered questions about students staying home, saying the district should not penalize students for COVID-19-related absences during the pandemic.

Elizalde and trustees, including Kristin Ashy and Arati Singh, pointed out absences affect learning outcomes. Also, AISD’s funding from the state is determined by the number of days of school attended by all students rather than the number of students enrolled, so absences directly affect funding, Elizalde said.

Despite this tie between attendance and funding, Elizalde said the district will not penalize absences. Any absence related to the coronavirus should be excused without extensive conversation between parents and their student’s campus, she said.

“The real question should be how we support students while they’re home,” Elizalde said.

Alana Bejarano, director of health services for the district, told the board that masking, social distancing, testing and providing vaccinations for COVID-19 are working to prevent COVID-19 spread in the district, although low test supplies caused the district to temporarily close two of its 11 testing hubs earlier in the day.

“Is there a nationwide shortage? Absolutely,” Bejarano said.

Bejarano said district staff is in daily communication with vendors to acquire more tests for the district.

Elizalde said staff have made it clearer to her in recent days that virtual learning options are not possible for the district due to a lack of a funding source for that option.

The district closed a classroom this week in St. Elmo Elementary School due to COVID-19 spread.

Bejarano said rather than setting a limit on what percentage of a class can test positive for the virus before closing a classroom, the district completes contact tracing in each situation to make sure any students who can safely attend school are not forced to stay home.

“We look at every single case that comes in, which over break was 1,100,” Bejarano said.

Bejarano also said district leaders believe the spread is reaching its peak and will plateau in coming days.
By Maggie Quinlan

Reporter, Southwest Austin/Dripping Springs

Maggie joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July 2021 after a year spent covering crime, courts and politics at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, near the border with Idaho. In Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs, Maggie covers education, business, healthcare, transportation, real estate development and nonprofits. Prior to CI, she graduated from Washington State University, where she was managing editor of the student newspaper and a section editor at her hometown newspaper based in Moscow, Idaho. Maggie dreamed of living in the Austin area for years and feels honored to serve the communities of Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs.