UTAH (ABC4) – School districts across the country are facing a teacher and substitute teacher shortage as kids head back to class. However, schools in Utah report that the shortage has not hit the Beehive State. Nonetheless, districts are adopting incentives to encourage substitutes to fill in more often.
On Monday, the Ogden School District had 27 substitutes filling in. A spokesperson for the district told ABC4 that they have enough substitutes to fill current needs but could use more. A large event, like an outbreak of illness, could push them over the limit.
“I think they’re critical,” Keith Mecham said. Mecham is an assistant superintendent at Box Elder School District. He wears many hats. One of those hats has him overseeing personnel in the district, including substitutes. “It is sometimes a thankless job,” he added.
Mecham explained that like OSD, his school district has enough substitutes to meet immediate needs. This is a pattern in northern Utah. Weber School District, Davis School District, Logan City School District and Cache County School District all reported having a satisfactory number of substitutes on their rosters. Nonetheless, there is one challenge that nearly every district is facing — they need the substitutes on their rosters to fill in on a more frequent basis.
“We do understand that this is kind of a time where we need to continue to promote, encourage, train, and pay well,” Mecham stated.
Halfway through last school year, Box Elder School District began to offer a pay increase for subs who teach five, 10 and 15 days a month. Mecham explained that prior to the pandemic, the substitute fill rate was more than 90 percent. During the pandemic, the fill rate dropped to around 70 percent. After incentives were introduced, the fill rate began to slowly climb and is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Mechan said, “We anticipate that to continue to help us move forward.”
Since those incentives are proving to be working, the district will continue to implement them this school year. The district is also adding an incentive for those who substitute on Fridays. Mecham explained, “The first couple of weeks, there’s not a tremendous amount of sub need, but by September 30, every Friday until May 19, we’re going to add an extra $15.”
The district, as well as most of the other districts in the region, uses Kelly Education to hire, train and help maintain their substitute staff. Kelly Education released the following statement to ABC4:
Kelly Education has worked with its partner districts in northern Utah to increase pay rates and offer program incentives to encourage continual participation in their schools. We’ve received positive feedback from our current substitute educators, who say they are excited about the changes. We expect higher participation compared to last school year. Increased pay rates and incentive programs such as $100 referral bonuses and a monthly bonus program have also garnered interest from potential candidates. Additionally, two of our districts are piloting a Super Substitute program, an incentive designed to encourage consistent participation within the district and create and more reciprocal relationship between the Kelly Education employee and the district they select for assignment. We are always actively recruiting and will continue throughout the school year. We are seeing a strong response from new talent and talent retention with these pay increases and incentives offered. Our target is for our substitute talent pool to be three times the daily need to meet the needs of our clients while allowing for flexible schedules. For 2022-23 we expect a participation rate of 45 percent of the pool working at any given time. We look forward to a successful school year.
“COVID-19, as we all know, continues to circulate in our community,” Estee Hunt with Bear River Health Department told ABC4. As more students in northern Utah return to class this week, health officials are reminding Utahns that the pandemic isn’t over yet. Hunt added, “Our biggest message right now is if you have a sick child, or you as a teacher do not feel well the best thing to do is to stay home.”
As students, staff and teachers come down with illnesses, including COVID-19, people will miss school and the need for substitutes is expected to remain high this year.
“You don’t want to have a wasted day, so you’ve got to support teachers and you got to help give support to our substitutes,” Mecham stated.
Like BESD, other districts are showing their support for substitutes through incentives. A spokesperson for Logan City School District informed ABC4 that substitutes are greeted with a special treat and the district increased their daily rate by $10.
The Cache County School District put in place the same incentive for substitutes that work five, 10 and 15 days a month during the previous school year. However, it is making a change this year. A spokesperson for the district said they are now taking part in a program called Super Sub. In this program, substitutes who commit to working at least 45 days during the school year will receive a five percent increase in their daily pay rate.
The Davis School District does not offer any substitute incentives at this time. However, according to the district, they have enough substitutes to meet their current needs. They have over 1,800 on their roster. Just recently, the district removed 300 people from the roster for failing to meet the minimum requirement to fill in at least once during the previous year.
The Weber School District told ABC4 that incentives will be discussed soon. According to the district, their roster is full of substitutes. However, the ratio of active to nonactive substitutes is not as high as they would like it to be.