As the economy improves, school districts struggle to find substitute teachers.
Both the McFarland and Monona Grove School Districts are working to address substitute teacher shortages within the districts as a result of nationwide teacher and substitute teacher shortages.
At the Aug. 5 McFarland School Board meeting, board members discussed shortages in regard to special education during the address of the annual seclusion and restraint report. The report details the number of times staff had to physically restrain a child to keep them from harming themselves, staff and other students.
The number of instances has been decreasing the past several years with 23 students making up 105 instances in 2018-19. Most of the instances happened at Waubesa Intermediate School as children learn strategies to deal with emotions and can become more dangerous to restrain with size as they age.
“I would say a sub shortage is a bigger concern than adding additional staff,” director of student services Lauren Arango said.
The district has to first pull teachers from special education classrooms to serve as subs.
McFarland School District business manager Jeff Mahoney said that the number of substitute teachers varies day to day. The district needs anywhere from five to 30 substitute teachers each day and fills anywhere from 80 to 100 percent.
Monona Grove needs 22 a day on average. Their fill rate for the 2018-19 year was 85.92 percent.
“Yes, we are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage,” said Monona Grove director of human resources Nicole Thibodeau, “It’s really a trickle down of the overall statewide and nationwide teacher shortage.”
McFarland School District Superintendent Andrew Briddell encourages community members to visit the district’s website to learn about becoming a substitute teacher.
“Guest teachers are very important members of our school team, and it is becoming more and more challenging to meet our needs in that area,” he said. “We are working with Teachers on Call, our guest teacher partner, to increase the number of available candidates.”
Monona Grove School District also works with Teachers on Call, a company that provides substitute teachers to schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Despite the company’s recruitment efforts, the health of the economy has played a factor in recruitment.
“I think as a general rule, substitute teachers are in short supply for every school district,” McFarland school board member Ann Moliter said. “I mean when you have an economy like we have now when unemployment is so low, there’s just not a lot of people willing to be on the substitute teaching list.”
“When the economy was not doing as well, we were close to 100 percent fill rates,” Mahoney added. “It also ebbs and flows with people who want to be subs.”
He said that many these individuals are retired educators or retirees from other industries. They like to have Mondays and Fridays, as well as days with nice weather off. During May, the district had 438 requests off just for Fridays and had an 80 percent fill rate.
Thibodeau noted that fewer students are enrolling in education programs in college, leading to fewer teachers overall.
“It used to be that new graduates would start as substitute teachers to get their foot in the door,” she said. “Now many graduates get teaching jobs right after graduation due to the overall teacher shortage.”
To address the shortage, both districts are offering benefits to substitute teachers.
“We paid $117 in the past and we are moving to $124,” Mahoney said.
On average, the pay rate in Dane County is $110-$125 per day.
The Monona Grove School District offers incentives to substitute teachers who work in the district for multiple days and is considering increasing the pay rate this year. They avoid scheduling teacher professional development days during school hours and added the option for teachers to take a payout for unused personal leave.
Mahoney said the problem is not as widespread in the McFarland School District, because teachers are willing to substitute for other classes.
“We do have a great teaching staff that when they have their break time or prep time, they do fill in for teachers that are out of the district,” Mahoney said.
Teachers are compensated for the hours they spend with another class.
“At times it’s very challenging, because the principals and administrative assistants are piecing together vacancies,” he said.
Indian Mound Middle School has a staff member who spends 15 minutes each morning scheduling subs.
“They are testing it at the middle school, because it is the school hit hardest,” he said.