The Lewisville ISD school board approved a contract with Ess South Central to supply the district with substitute teachers for eight months.

The contract was approved 6-1 during the board’s regular board meeting Dec. 13. Board member Angie Cox opposed the item.

The contract will run through August 2022, and the contract will require annual renewal. Funds for the services will come from the human resources department budget, according to the Dec. 13 board meeting agenda item.

Cox opposed the item because she worried the quality of substitutes could not be maintained with a third party company, she said. Her fear is that the company will focus on filling seats and less on the quality of the person, which the district could maintain internally.

“I want a quality substitute,” she said.

Sheila Smith, the district’s chief executive director of employee services, said the district will maintain control on the quality of staff brought into the classroom.

“They want to roll out a system that meets our needs,” she said.

Ess is an education company that assists districts with staffing and filling vacant roles, according to the board agenda.

The contract agreement comes after a year of substitute vacancies that the district struggled to fill, which was discussed during a Dec. 6 board workshop.

During the 2021-22 school year to date, the district filled 57% of requested substitute positions. The rate has dropped nearly 30% from the 2018-19 school year when the rate was 87.8%, according to district data.

Board Member Allison Lassahn said she is in favor of hiring the company to boost the district’s substitute fill rate. Hiring Ess South Central will help boost teacher and administrator morale, she said.

“This is something we’ve got to do,” she said. “[A 57% fill rate] is so low.”

By partnering with a substitute staffing services firm, the goal is to increase the district’s increase rate, resolve pay gaps among campuses and retain control over hiring, according to the recommendation from the district’s human resources department to the board.

The issue is not specific to Lewisville ISD, and it is an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Melissa Cobb, who oversees the district’s substitutes, during the Dec. 6 workshop.