The need for substitute teachers in FISD increased by approximately 14% between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 school years—and for aides, by almost 42%. But the ability to fill those absences has become more challenging. FISD approved a contract with substitute sourcing company ESS South Central at a July 10 special board meeting. The contract adds $2.2 million to the budget for the upcoming school year.
The contract aims to increase the district’s current pool from approximately 1,000-1,100 substitutes to between 1,500-2,000.
Managing Director of Elementary Schools Christy Fiori has described classrooms as “chaotic” when a substitute is unavailable.
“That kind of changes your morning,” Fiori said, “because you’re trying to make sure that it’s going to be a good day for kids.”
Emails and phone calls go out to as many as 1,000 substitutes registered in FISD’s absence management system, said Anna Koenig, school district managing director of human resources.
And when a substitute is unavailable at elementary schools, classrooms are often divided among teachers in the same grade level, Fiori said. At the secondary level, Mark Mimms, incoming managing director of secondary schools, said teachers in subject-level teams may have to sacrifice instructional planning time to fill holes.
The substitute shortage is more apparent when teachers are absent for extended periods or during flu season when several are out at the same time, Koenig said.
And though Mimms and Fiori said FISD teachers are quick to step in wherever needed, it can take a toll on morale.
For instance, when elementary teachers take on extra students, they have to alter their lessons for the new class size, Fiori said.
“They had plans for that day as well,” Fiori said. “And now you’ve got five additional students, you’ve got to think quickly of how you’re going to meet the needs of those kids.”
In substitute-scarce secondary classrooms, teachers may lose time to create plans for struggling students or to exchange instructional ideas with one another, Mimms said.
This past school year, the district filled aide absences about 63% of the time. Mimms said the aide pay rate makes it even more difficult to fill these shortages.
“It’s really a challenge,” Mimms said. “Mainly for the instructional coaches—especially in special [education].”
Koenig believes the contract with ESS South Central will give the growing district the pool for substitute teachers and aides it needs. The company will be tailoring a plan for FISD specifically, she said.
ESS South Central will offer professional development and training, benefits, a 401(k) and additional incentives to get substitutes in schools that struggle to fill absences. FISD’s current substitutes will transition into the company, but those with relationships with certain schools will still have priority over newer substitutes, said Pamela Linton, FISD’s chief human resources officer.
“We don’t want to alienate the subs we have now,” Linton said. “We need them, we want them back, and we want to maintain that relationship.”
Koenig said substitutes can now receive weekly pay, which she said is a “huge” incentive for them.
Other incentives the district approved in March, such as extra pay on Mondays and Fridays, will no longer be in place, Koenig said. The board, however, will maintain increased substitute pay at $100 a day for those with college degrees, $110 a day for those with teaching certificates and $80 a day for aides.
Linton and Koenig said the district will work closely with the company, especially around October when requests typically rise.
“We will still be very involved,” Linton said. “We want to continue to take care of our kids, teachers and staff members.”
After visiting schools in surrounding districts, Koenig said she believes the company can get the district to its goal of filling absences 95% of the time.
“Every school district that they work with in our area … they have all said they can do it,” Koenig said.
Additionally, Linton said she believes the company will offer credible and high-quality substitutes.
“I never want anyone to underestimate the impact of subs,” Linton said. “When you have a great one, it can make all the difference when a teacher is out.”