SUBSTITUTING IN PASCO COUNTY SCHOOLS

Holy Billfold Batman!

Pasco County School District “leaders” have actually proposed increasing substitute pay. According to the proposal, pay for substitutes will be increased from abject poverty wages to just plain, run-of-the-mill poverty wages. Our trusty Tampa Bay Times reporter and surrogate Pasco schools public relations officer Jeff Solochek covered the earthshaking news in his Gradebook blog with a masterful demonstration of his literary ability.

Miracles Never Cease

Apparently, after an extensive study of all the possible reasons behind the ever-present problem of a district-wide substitute shortage, HR determined that the single biggest reason was probably the insultingly pitiful pay rates for subs, which, amazingly enough, was the very same thing that so many people have been saying now for who knows how long.

Assuming the school board approves HR’s recommendations, pay for subs with only a high school diploma or G.E.D. will go up, from $56 per day to $65. For subs with a bachelor’s degree, the daily rate will go from $65 to $70. The long-term rate will remain $85 per day for both of the above categories. That seems like an insult to a bachelor’s degree to me.

A new category will be created for certified teachers serving as substitutes. Subs who are certified to teach will earn $75 daily and will be paid $95 per day for long-term assignments.

Pay for retired teachers will not change. It is the same as the newly created certified teacher category.

It’s important to note that Pasco doesn’t require substitute teachers to have any education beyond a high school diploma or equivalency. Recently, after the district surreptitiously dropped the minimum requirement of an associate’s degree to a high school diploma or G.E.D., substitute numbers have increased rapidly. However, even after the rapid increase in sub numbers, many schools still faced a daily shortage of substitutes. Let’s face it: you have got to be pretty desperate to enter an unknown classroom, full of kids who are bound to act the way kids act for a substitute, for $56 a day. $65 per day is only a little less insulting, but if I had no choice but to sub in order to make ends meet, I’d welcome the raise. The paltry $5 per day raise for subs with a bachelor’s is laughable, and it shows just where the district wants to go with this.

The certified/retired teacher category represents a small minority of substitutes. Judging from the rapid expansion of the sub pool after the district dropped the associate’s degree minimum qualification, it is entirely plausible that, before long, given the still pathetic wages paid to substitutes, the majority of them will have no education beyond high school.

Given that reality, the school district should at least make an honest attempt to fill long-term sub assignments with people who have degrees. I’m not so sure that’s the case. Subs with only a high school diploma should not be given long-term assignments except as a last resort, when all attempts to assign a degreed sub have been exhausted.

What about long-term assignments?

How do we make sure that vacancies are filled with actual teachers when there’s an obvious financial incentive to pay a sub in that vacancy for less than half the daily rate of an actual teacher and zero benefits? The district should make public all long-term teaching vacancies, as well as steps taken to fill them to include the number of candidates who have applied and been interviewed for each vacancy, as well as why it has not been filled.

There’s definitely too many classrooms with long-term subs. Are parents notified (by someone other than their kid) when a classroom has a long-term sub assigned to it?

There are essentially two possible reasons to need a long-term sub. The first, of course, is when the regular classroom teacher takes leave of some sort or another, but will be returning. This creates a defined period of time during which a sub will be needed. The longer the period of time, the higher the need for a degreed sub to be assigned there.

The second reason to need a long-term sub is a sudden vacancy created by a teacher who leaves altogether. These vacancies can be open-ended, and that’s where the problem lies.

What’s to stop the district from leaving a long-term sub in a classroom, or maybe leaving a lot of long-term subs in a lot of classrooms, because of the savings? Like we already know, a long-term sub makes a whole lot less than an actual teacher. Add up a bunch of those vacancies, and, well, you do the math.

I know I wouldn’t be the first teacher to walk by a classroom staffed by a long-term sub day after day wondering, “When are they going to hire an actual teacher?” Really. Something to look into. You never know with Pasco.

Just one last thing about subs. I’ve read comments people have made about the treatment of substitutes in Pasco schools and I have to say I think they get treated pretty poorly, by the district, by schools, and by some teachers. The district issues are a dead horse. They’ve been beaten to death over and over. Now, the district just needs to get off the money.

Tricky Schools

School issues are a different animal altogether. Different schools have different cultures. I’ve been in a couple where subs were hardly even acknowledged by the regular staff, let alone welcomed warmly. We, as administrators, teachers and hosts, should make a deliberate effort to greet subs warmly and offer our assistance as needed. That alone can make a sub’s day better. It’s sensible that teachers welcome subs; a good rapport with a couple of good subs can go a long way if you know you’re going to be out.

Many subs I’ve spoken to personally have related how the school administrators treated them with indifference, or even utter rudeness, and some have said they were blamed, in one way or another, for poor behavior in a classroom. Subs relate how they will no longer work at a particular school because of a lack of support from the school’s administration. In that regard, perhaps, they’re just being treated like regular faculty.

According to Jeff Solochek, our superintendent, Kurt Browning, the guy with absolutely ZERO education related experience whatsoever prior to becoming the boss of a school district, had an important contribution to make to the debate about how to attract more substitutes. He thinks we ought to call subs “guest teachers” instead of substitutes. I guess he thinks it sounds nicer. It “imparts respect.” Well, it sounds like another bunch of total bullshit to me. You want to convey respect? Pay a decent wage.

Substitutes should not be treated as subordinates, especially since they are legally full-fledged teachers while in the charge of a classroom. I’ve seen more than a few teachers cross the line from helpful to bossy and intrusive when “checking in” on an absent teacher’s classroom. Subs have pride too.

As far as stunts that schools pull on subs go, well, here’s the one that I hear about the most: A sub accepts Job A, because she/he knows the teacher or the subject or both, and is comfortable with the classroom, and therefore wants to work in it. When she/he gets to the school, the substitute coordinator at the school gives the sub some cockamamie story about how “Job A is covered now, but where we really need you is Job B.” The sub, without any means of actually verifying the sub coordinator’s story, accepts the switch and winds up spending the day in hell, or at least, a classroom she/he would have never accepted given the choice. This practice is unacceptable, and should be prohibited. Sub coordinators take advantage of new subs who don’t know their ways around by sticking them in classrooms that are notoriously hard to find subs for. That makes it easier to find teachers at the same school to cover more desirable classrooms a period at a time during their planning. The practice takes advantage of subs’ reluctance to question the perceived authority of the sub coordinator, and of course, their need to make some money that day. If a sub accepts Job A, then that sub should be assigned to Job A. The only exception should be when a teacher cancels her/his own absence.

Also, in the past at least, subs were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted during the planning period of the teacher they were subbing for. This often provided a much needed break between really difficult classes. All too often now subs are yanked out of the assignment they accepted (or maybe didn’t accept) and sent to cover yet another classroom for that hour. That’s bullshit too.

So, I guess what this all boils down to is the same thing that is causing a looming teacher shortage. It certainly isn’t advanced thinking of any sort, though the fundamental precepts thereof do seem to escape the brain trust at the Pasco County Schools District Offices. In my magnanimous and altruistic crusade to bring higher-order thinking to the Pasco district offices, I will state a simple law of employment in the simplest, most rudimentary terms I can assemble:

If you want a reliable supply of quality employees, treat them with respect, both financially and conditionally.

Until the district is willing to do that, the problem is here to stay.

With regards to dead horses…

 

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