Bonuses, food and drinks: York districts mull ways to woo substitute teachers during shortage

Substitute teacher Tabatha Peters, right, of West York Borough, listens to the concerns of student J'Angely Mejia, 4, during Community Progress Council's Head Start in York City, Friday, Dec. 15, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

At last month's West York Area school board meeting, director Douglas Hoover used the final minutes of the meeting to make a Hail Mary request to increase substitute teacher pay.

"On Fridays in the spring, if you’re a district that can get a few more subs, it makes a difference," Hoover said.

Typically, starting daily substitute teacher rates in York County are around $110 —  as with districts such as York Suburban, Eastern York and South Eastern — but West York's rate is only $105. And its rates have only increased $5 every two years since 2015.

In 1993, rates were between $90 and $95, said Karen Jury, of West Manchester Township, a longtime substitute in the district, noting that they haven't increased much.

Jury said in the past year she has also began to sub in four other districts because short-staffing at West York created other difficulties, such as being moved at the last minute to other buildings, grade levels and subjects.

"I’m getting pretty close to walking away out of frustration and lack of pay," she said.

More:West York district raises salaries for teachers in new contract

Hoover is not alone in looking for options to attract and retain teachers, as a substitute teacher shortage is prevalent across the county and nationwide.

West York Area school board member Douglas Hoover leads a tour through Dover Area High School, where he also works as a history teacher, Oct. 24, 2019.

It stems from a drop in the number of full-time teachers, which first started in 2014 or 2015, said J.R. Godwin, vice president of business affairs at the Substitute Teacher Service, which works with more than 80 districts statewide to fill substitute positions.

More:Administrators feel teacher shortage in York County

The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued 5,842 entry-level teaching certificates, according to the most recent year of data, 2017-18. That's more than the 4,412 issued the year before but still far below 2012-13, in which 16,614 were issued.

The decline can be attributed to a number of factors — including school districts paying teachers less because of rising pension costs and a change in state certification guidelines in 2012.

When the department changed its certification guidelines, they became more specific. For example, teachers couldn't be certified for all elementary grades but would need multiple certifications.

"It really actually kind of starved the secondary, highly qualified type of teachers," said Amy Kostoff,  assistant special education director for Dallastown Area School District. "That was something that was sort of out of everybody’s control."

More:Mental health, special ed needs on the rise in Dallastown

The National Education Association recognizes the sub shortage, noting many districts have increased their daily rate of pay — with some doing a multi-tier structure with higher salaries kicking in after an agreed-upon number of days.

Several districts in York County are doing this, including South Eastern, which this summer added an increase from its daily rate of $110 to $130 once teachers have worked 21 days.

"We are experiencing a sub shortage," said Tracy Kerr, human resources director for South Eastern, in an email. "Typically from October through May, it is daily that we have to cover absences."

Several districts are also using Godwin's Substitute Teacher Service — which, in addition to taking the burden of finding subs off  districts, can offer other incentives such as a 401K program, a health plan as of this January and flexible scheduling.

Eight York County districts use the service, including Central York, Dallastown Area, Eastern York, Southern York County, South Eastern, York City, West York Area and York Suburban.

Substitute Teacher Marianne Michels takes attendance as she leads Physical Education class at Susquehannock High School in Glen Rock, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

To fill absences, more districts are also starting to utilize guest teachers, which Godwin said were first used about 20 years ago to help city schools fill positions.

Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 offers training for the PDE-sanctioned position, which awards an "emergency certification" that enables teachers to work for no more than 20 days.

More:Board member: Northeastern teacher contract harbinger of tax hike

Districts have not been affected equally by the sub shortage. Spring Grove Area discovered ways to plan ahead and incentivize, which has kept it at a roughly 97% fill rate for substitute positions on a monthly basis.

The district's director of human resources, Angie Doll, uses the district's absence management system to track how many substitutes were needed, and on what day, over the past year in order to line up subs for the next year.

And substitute coordinator Barbara Valencia works from a customer-service standpoint to make substitutes feel welcome through administrator visits, orientation and food and drink incentives.

"We couldn't do what we do everyday without them," Valencia said, and it keeps them coming back — some for years.

The West York school board will consider the pay raise proposal at its Tuesday, Nov. 19, meeting. The proposal would raise the district's daily rate to $110, and to remain competitive, offer a $500 quarterly bonus.

Most substitutes work for multiple districts, said board President Todd Gettys, so the bonus would be for those who spend 80% of their work days at West York — and who work at least 36 days in the district.

And according to Godwin, incentives such as these will be needed for some time.

He said he saw a similar sub shortage trend in the early 1990s, so it does rebound, but it will probably take another four to five years. What's needed, he said, is a greater push for students to go into education, he said.

"We’ve really got to change the need around it," Godwin said.