Why are substitute teachers rejecting Prince Edward, board asks

Published 6:27 am Tuesday, November 14, 2023

FARMVILLE – After hearing multiple ideas on ways to recruit more substitute teachers and boost morale, Elzora Stiff had a question. The District 6 representative on the Prince Edward School Board said she heard plenty of ideas, but nobody had actually come out and said why Prince Edward schools struggled to keep and recruit substitutes. 

“I wonder if we are attacking the right reason why we’re not getting the subs,” Stiff said. “Most of our conversation has been based around the salary. Has it been documented somewhere that subs aren’t coming because of the salary?” 

The answer, from Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson, was no. 

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“We have not done any specific data collection on why subs do not come,” Johnson told Stiff and the rest of the board during their Wednesday, Nov. 8 meeting. 

The board had been discussing substitute teachers and teacher morale at the request of District 7 representative Susan Kimbrough, who had raised the issue last month. Kimbrough had heard complaints from teachers, as they have to give up planning periods to cover classes, due to the lack of substitutes. And if those planning periods don’t synch with the class in question, teachers are having to swap halfway through, as they have their own students to teach. 

A problem with substitute teachers?

But there’s very few people to jump in and help when a teacher is out sick in Prince Edward. For the entire district, there are currently 34 approved substitutes. Thirty applied back in August, with interviews held within two weeks. Out of that number, six didn’t show up, six others decided they weren’t interested, three couldn’t be reached due to incomplete applications and seven were hired as subs, while two took full-time jobs in the district. The others simply didn’t respond. 

In October, the district staff tried again. A total of 10 made it through the interviews, with two of those later declining, as they took full-time jobs elsewhere. And while there are 34 active substitutes, that doesn’t mean they always say yes. 

“We have 34 substitutes on the list, because (that’s the number) active, but that does not mean when they are called, they come and accept the assignment,” Johnson said. 

As Johnson said earlier, the district doesn’t have any data as to why more substitutes don’t sign up in Prince Edward. There’s also no data on why active subs don’t take a job when they’re called. 

Now the district divides substitutes into four pay ranges. A Level 1 sub, with a bachelor’s degree and a current teaching certificate, gets $111.12 per day. For Level 2, a person with just the degree and no certificate, it’s $105.64. A Level Three sub, someone who has an associate’s degree, gets $100.80 per day, while a Level Four, who has a high school diploma, gets $96. 

Johnson pointed out those rates are on par with other school districts in the region. 

A need for more

Kimbrough argued that it didn’t matter if the salary rates matched other districts. 

“That doesn’t really matter if we can’t find subs in Prince Edward County at the pay (rate) we’re paying,” Kimbrough said. “It doesn’t matter what Charlotte County or Amelia County is paying. They can find people.” 

She pointed out that especially for the lower ranked subs, the pay isn’t much at all. Kimbrough asked if subs typically worked 7 or 7 ½ hours in class and nobody could answer that. 

“If it’s 7.5 (hours), we’re paying those lower people $12.80 an hour,” Kimbrough said, pointing out that’s under minimum wage. “If it’s 7 (hours), we’re paying them $13.71. Subbing is hard. It’s hard work. It all depends on the quality of the sub plan left for you and how disciplined students are.” 

District 1 representative Kelly Forsythe asked if Prince Edward had reached out to any of the teaching students at Longwood. Johnson said yes, they’ve had conversations with Longwood about the idea. 

Johnson added that the district staff would look at possibly increasing substitute salaries in next year’s budget. 

An issue with absentee teachers 

Since there was nothing decided about substitute teachers, Kimbrough turned to look at teacher morale. To help with that, she put forward a motion to give all students and staff the entire week of Thanksgiving off this year. 

“This has been a hard year,” Kimbrough said. “And let’s just face it, there’s not going to be any learning going on (those two days). It’s right before Thanksgiving.” 

Other school board members weren’t as interested in that idea. 

“Teachers are in the middle of their curriculum. How disruptive is that going to be? What about when students come back? Then they’ll have to settle them down and get back discipline,” said District 3 representative Dr. Timothy Corbett. “I don’t think that we’ve really given it enough thought to say at this point that we can give them a whole week. What impact is that gonna have on our students? Are they in the middle of getting ready for exams? I think that may have a significant impact on learning.” 

Johnson was asked and acknowledged not a lot of learning happens in the two days before Thanksgiving break. 

“There are not a lot of things planned for those days,” Johnson said. “There will be activities that will be more fun. They won’t be in the heavy core instruction. Attendance for those days, quite honestly, is typically down, because families have decided to travel.” 

Most of the board either said there wasn’t enough time to think about this or they wanted to wait and get an official recommendation. 

“I’d rather have the superintendent come back with a recommendation after she’s spoken to teachers or whoever she needs to (talk) to,” said District 4 representative Beulah Womack. 

Multiple others felt it would be a hardship on parents, giving them less than two weeks to find childcare those two days. 

“Let’s just call it what it is,” Kimbrough said. “You’re voting against letting them have the whole week off at Thanksgiving, so let’s just call it what it is.”

Kimbrough was the only board member to vote in favor of the proposal. 

Instead, Johnson agreed to look into building some teacher holidays into next year’s calendar, potentially one in the fall and one in February or March.