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School Districts Advertise, Offer Recruitment Bonuses To Fill Sub Shortages

Leslie Forsythe, a substitute teacher at the Affton Early Childhood Center, coaxes a student into a classroom on the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.
File photo| Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Leslie Forsythe, a substitute teacher at the Affton Early Childhood Center, coaxes a student into a classroom on the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

School districts in St. Louis are trying new ways to get a qualified adult in classrooms when the teacher is out.

Districts have employed technology, pay bumps and advertising as they compete for a small pool of people willing to supervise students in a pinch.

Teachers miss about two weeks of school a year, on average, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. There’s a nationwide shortage of about 60,000 substitute teachers, according to Stanford University’s Learning Policy Institute. 

Hancock Place, a district of 1,500 students in south St. Louis County, took steps last year to stand out among its neighboring districts in the search for subs.

“We’re competing,” said Superintendent Kevin Carl. “Substitutes, they can be challenging to find. No district ever has enough substitutes, and we’re all competing against one another.”

Hancock Place raised its daily rate for subs by $15 to $110, putting it on the higher end of what subs in the St. Louis area make. That $90-$115 range breaks down to about $13-$15 an hour for a seven-hour school day.

Carl also offers his full-time teachers a referral bonus if they recruit a substitute. An online system has been successful in filling planned outings by letting teachers post days they’ll be out and allowing subs to select the days they want to work.

“It’s great on both fronts,” he said. “The ease of the substitute now to be able to go in online and be able to choose when they want to sub and where.”

But these online systems have shortcomings. Filling shortages that arise less than 24 hours in advance is still difficult.

“Because of the advent of the internet and getting away from the 5 a.m. phone call, it’s probably more competitive than it has been,” said Jennifer Hansen, Mehlville School District’s executive director of human resources.

Mehlville, which neighbors Hancock Place to the south, has been able to “weather the storm” of sub shortages, Hansen said. The district uses an in-house online fill system like Hancock Place's, and Hansen said it tries hard to keep subs paired with a few teachers so they’re familiar with each other. 

Several districts in St. Louis County have contracted out finding and filling daily openings to national companies. That increases the cost of hiring a sub but often lessens the burden on district administrators and principals.

Larger districts are able to employ full-time subs who are often assigned to a building. St. Louis Public Schools has more than 100 full-time subs on the payroll.

In August, the Special Administrative Board for Riverview Gardens schools approved spending $3,585 on a billboard ad to recruit subs to the north St. Louis County district.

The Mexico School District in central Missouri began studying ways to recruit more subs last year, according to the Mexico Ledger. And Columbia Public Schools has only half the needed subs waiting in the wings,the Columbia Missourian reported. The district recently switched contractors providing subs. 

Requirements to sub vary widely by state. Substitute teachers in Missouri must have at least 60 college credit hours, a certificate from the state education department and pass a background check. Some states, including Vermont, only require a high school diploma, while states including Connecticut and California require a completed college degree.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.