At a time when numbers of substitute teachers for Williamson County Schools are significantly lower than they typically were prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the district has proposed an increase in pay to attract more substitutes and to get more work from those already in the pool.
Williamson County Board of Education members spent a significant amount of time at Thursday’s work session discussing the issue of staffing in schools and the need for more substitute teachers for now and the rest of the school year. They will vote on a proposed pay increase at tonight’s school board meeting that begins at 6:30.
“We have been going through some substitute shortages, and we would like to incentivize substitutes to work more and to encourage others to apply and to work,” Vickie Hall, assistant superintendent for Human Resources, said during Thursday’s work session.
Hall and WCS Superintendent Jason Golden are proposing a pay rate of $100 a day for uncertified subs and $120 for teachers who are actively certified. That’s an increase from as low as $70 a day for uncertified to $90 for certified teachers. The proposal also includes a bonus of a day’s pay for every 10 days a substitute works, as well as WCS paying the $40 training fee that currently new substitute hires must pay.
“We feel this is significant, especially for those who don’t get benefits, who don’t have retirement, who don’t have health insurance and are choosing to work here and there,” Golden said, referring to the fact that substitute teachers in WCS aren’t eligible for benefits since they’re not full-time staff members.
Hall said the district has a little more than 900 substitute teachers on the books, but only about half of those are working thus far this year. The fill rate for staff absences this time last year was around 85%, according to Hall, while this year it’s around 50%.
“We have a huge drop in the coverage on how many subs are actually coming in and filling these positions,” she said.
A few board members asked if the increase in pay is enough. District 2 representative Dan Cash, for instance, put the proposed pay rate in perspective by pointing out the hourly wage is $12.50 for an uncertified sub and $15 for a certified teacher.
“I’m not even going to get out of bed and comb my hair for that,” he said. “I think these folks who we really need to [work] need more incentive than this.
“I feel we’re way overdue on raises for substitutes. We’ve been talking about this for a long time. The kind of money we’re paying them is really nothing in today’s pay scale of things. I’d like to see a pay raise where they’re [eagerly] calling in and asking, ‘Where can I go today?’
“We’re going to need them. This COVID is not going anywhere right now, and we’re going to need these people.”
Eliot Mitchell, District 3, asked if some subs — especially “super subs,” those who work a minimum of 16 days per month and are paid $180 each day — could become full-time employees and receive benefits.
But that would put pressure on the school budget, according to WCS Chief Financial Officer Leslie Holman.
“That would be very costly,” she said. “We will be over-budget by the end of the year [due to strains from the pandemic]. We are trying to stay within our means and trying to provide as much as we can for relief, but to add benefits until COVID ends and take them away would be costly for the county to have to deal with and for us.”
For now, Hall and Golden are asking board members to approve the proposed pay increase that would go into effect Dec. 1. In addition to that incentive, Hall said the district is going full-tilt in recruiting for substitute teachers, both through technology and more hands-on approaches.
“We are making some strides towards bringing some additional people on,” she said. "We’re doing a lot of advertising. We’re out there on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Our recruiters have put out some large yellow signs at all the schools across the district.
“The PTOs have sent out emails to their membership. We have emailed the colleges and the universities in the area to see if we could recruit college students. A lot of them are going to have a long break this semester.
“We have gotten a lot of referrals. We’re encouraged by that but we would like to see them work more.”
Click here to access the livestream of tonight’s school board meeting and to read the agenda.