District to pay substitute teachers more, allow high school grads to do the job
The Palm Beach Post | By Sonja Isger | February 24, 2022
UPDATE Feb. 23: The school board voted unanimously on Wednesday to expand the substitute pool to 18-year-old high school graduates and to increase the hourly pay of its substitutes.
Palm Beach County school administrators are seeking to beef up the district’s thinning substitute ranks by opening the job to 18-year-old high school graduates and giving all who serve a raise – at least for now.
The proposal, up for school board consideration Wednesday night, would cost roughly $3.9 million and would be covered by money from federal COVID relief.
The addition of high school grads to the sub pool is a permanent change. The pay hike, however, would expire at the conclusion of federal pandemic relief in July 2024, said Mark Mitchell, director of compensation and employee information services.
The move would boost the bottom of the substitute pay scale from $12.33 an hour to $14.30 an hour, while giving the most prized substitutes, retired teachers, a raise from $14.91 to $17.41 per hour.
Those in the middle of the scale, with college credit hours or full degrees would see their hourly rates increase by $2.50.
It is the second pandemic-driven raise in as many years the district has given to subs. In the fall of 2021, the board approved a $1 an hour increase.
The district is just one of many across the state and nation desperate to fill yawning gaps in daily classroom coverage brought on by a rush of teachers exiting the field and the reluctance of traditional subs to step in during the pandemic.
This month, with the need to cover hundreds of classrooms every day, subs fill in for about six in 10 openings. Principals must fill the remaining gaps in a variety of creative ways, including having teachers cover classrooms for extra pay during their break.
40% of Palm Beach County substitutes are older than 55
In Palm Beach County, the classroom substitute pool of more than 2,800 people leans older, with 40% over age 55, Mitchell said. He suspects a hesitancy among this older group to work indoors during COVID has exacerbated the challenge.
Until now, subs needed at least 30 college credit hours under their belts, effectively eliminating high school grads who haven’t gotten that far academically or chose not to go to college.
“We called other districts in Florida, and it’s worked for them,” Mitchell said.
Preparing to recruit even younger substitutes, the district is also keeping an eye to where they will be assigned.
Those with fewer than 30 college credits to their name will be assigned only to the district’s elementary schools, Mitchell said.
Teacher shortages higher than normal
The district typically employs more than 12,000 teachers and in pre-pandemic times reported a vacancy rate of about 2%. A month before COVID closed schools across the state in 2020, the district saw that rate dip to 1.2% and stay low during the year of remote and mixed learning. This month, however, vacancy rates are at 2.4%, Mitchell said.
Post-holiday break vacancies include the resignation of 93 more teachers – double the resignations during the same time stretch last year and the year before.
Early in the pandemic and at the most difficult juncture of spiking teacher absences and fewer substitutes, only 40% of daily classroom openings were covered, Mitchell said. In January, the fill rate was closer to 50% and is now better than 60%, he said.
The shortage remains problematic enough that the district deploys staffers from the central and regional offices to fill in. The subs have included Deputy Superintendent Ed Tierney and Superintendent Mike Burke, who has subbed at least twice.