‘Just not enough substitutes available:’ School districts struggle to fill vacant classrooms

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WKMG News 6 | by Nadeen Yanes | October 15, 2020

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Officials with Central Florida school districts say they are experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers, they are struggling to fill the vacant positions.

On Wednesday, Orange County Public Schools once again had to partially close a school due to new positive cases at Avalon Elementary school, forcing 38 students and staff to quarantine.

During an Orange County Medical Advisory Committee meeting two weeks ago, Dr. Raul Pino said the decision to close down schools in some cases wasn’t just due to case numbers, but to the fact that there also wasn’t enough staff to cover those quarantining.

Cheryl Courier is the Vice President of Southeast Practice for Kelly Education Services, a contractor for Orange, Seminole, and Polk County Schools to hire and train substitute teachers.

“We absolutely need more substitute teachers,” Courier said. “There are just not enough substitutes available to fill the positions that we have.”

She said currently in Orange County, they have a pool of about 1,000 teachers. District officials said they usually like to keep the pool well over 2,000.

“COVID-19 is impacting our substitute teachers, just like it impacts our teachers, our substitutes have the same concerns,” she said. “Also a substitute teacher gets a lot less money than a full-time teacher and doesn’t have those benefits, so you are asking them to take larger risks without getting anything in return.”

Courier said each district sets its own pay scale, but on average substitute teachers make from $75-$188 per day based on experience and short-term or long-term assignments.

“So it makes it difficult to ask someone to do that, to go into a school where there may have been COVID-19 and take over a class, but at the same time not give them a quality pay,” she added.

However, the need is so great – the pay can be consistent. Just ask Orange County real estate agent and mom of two Patrice Pullen, who started subbing last year as a side hustle. This year she said she has subbed nearly every day this school year.

“Every single day my boots have been on the ground,” she said.

In fact, just today she was offered a long-term assignment for a teacher who will not come back for the 2nd nine weeks which began this week. Obtaining her Master’s Degree, the pay for the long-term assignment she said will be better.

“It’s English, 11th and 12th grade so I’m super excited,” she said. “As far as I know, it’s indefinite so you just take the information you have and go from there,”

According to numbers released by Orange County School District, 139 teachers have either retired or resigned since the beginning of face-to-face learning on Aug. 21.

“Every day there are hundreds of assignments,” Pullen said describing the process of choosing an open classroom each morning.

Because of the great demand, Kelly Education Services is actively recruiting, hosting virtual job fairs, networking with furloughed theme park employees, and consistently posting to Facebook. Courier believes for a recently furloughed employee, who might need a side hustle or even a steady job with flexible hours, substitute teaching can be an option for them.

“There are so many jobs available and with so many people furloughed and laid off this is a great opportunity,” Courier said.

She added substitute teachers only need 60 college credits or an associate’s degree to qualify and must pass a background check. She said in many cases, Kelly Education as well as each specific district will offer training for teachers both for in-person and virtual teaching.

To become a substitute teacher for Kelly Education, click here.

News 6 also emailed all of the school districts for answers on how many teacher vacancies they need, both permanent and substitute:

Seminole County

1) Is your district experiencing a teacher shortage? Not as of yet, but it’s something we’ll be monitoring closely. Especially, at the end of the school year. Where we are with the pandemic will likely dictate a lot of teacher’s decision process regarding the profession.

2) How many teachers vacancies are there in your district? Currently, 11 teaching positions posted on our HR website.

3) How many teachers have either resigned/retired since the beginning of the school year. 135

4) Regarding substitute teachers: How many substitute teachers are in your school districts; how many do you currently have? 1,500+

5) Are you looking to hire more? We’re always actively seeking Substitute Teachers on an ongoing basis to be a part of our pool. The process can be found at this link.

6) Are you at all concerned about the number of subs that may be needed if current teachers need to quarantine or test positive for the virus? Any numbers on these? It is a concern we’re continuing to closely monitor, but we haven’t experienced any issues as of yet.

VOLUSIA COUNTY

1) Is your district experiencing a teacher shortage? There is a nation-wide teacher shortage. There are certain areas that are critical shortage areas for teaching, including Exceptional Student Education, Science, Math, and Foreign Language.

2) How many teachers vacancies are there in your district? 53 classroom teacher vacancies.

3) How many teachers have either resigned/retired since the beginning of the school year. Retired is 79, Resigned is 34

4) Regarding substitute teachers: How many substitute teachers are in your school districts, how many do you currently have? We have a pool of over 1,000.

5) Are you looking to hire more? What is the process? Yes, we are actively recruiting for substitutes and teachers in the critical shortage areas.

6) Are you at all concerned about the number of subs that may be needed if current teachers need to quarantine or test positive for the virus? Any numbers on these? Yes, we are actively recruiting subs for this reason. We do not have numbers of teachers quarantined due to COVID.

MARION COUNTY

Regarding substitute teachers: How many substitute teachers are in your school districts, how man do you currently have? In Marion County, we have a pool of about 300.

Are you looking to hire more? What is the process? Yes, we’re always looking for more subs. Here is the process.

Are you at all concerned about the number of subs that may be needed if current teachers need to quarantine or test positive for the virus? Any numbers on these? We are comfortably optimistic, we’ll be OK when it comes to teachers out of the classroom. We’ve had a handful so far but nothing extraordinary given 70 percent of students in Marion County are in face-to-face classes.

LAKE COUNTY

Lake County officials said the district has12 instructional vacancies.

The district said 14 teachers retired this year and LCPS also had 47 teachers resign.

School officials said there are 500 substitute teachers in the county and

We have had 14 teachers retire this year. By comparison, we had 61 teachers retire in 2019-20. And we have had 47 teachers resign this year. We had 272 resign in 2019-20.

We have approximately 500 substitute teachers in Lake and anyone interested in applying for a substitute teacher position may do so online at this link.

OSCEOLA COUNTY

Osceola County currently has 873 substitute teachers on its roaster and does not have a shortage due to COVID-19 but district officials said they are always looking for new candidates.

“We are always looking for quality candidates to consider as substitute teachers,” a district spokesperson said. “Our district has not had to quarantine a large number of teachers.”

Interested applicants can apply here. Applicants can also email Hope Pope (Hope.Pope@osceolaschools.net) before or after they submit their application if they should have any questions.

FLAGLER COUNTY

1) Is your district experiencing a teacher shortage? There is not a shortage, but the number of applicants is lower than our usual for the vacancies we have.

2) How many teachers vacancies are there in your district? 16 teacher vacancies are currently posted

3) How many teachers have either resigned/retired since the beginning of the school year? 15 teachers have resigned or retired since Aug. 1

4) How many substitute teachers are in your school districts, how man do you currently have? There are 160 subs on the roster, 80 subs actively working.  Only 50-55 max pick up jobs consistently.

5) Are you looking to hire more? What is the process? Yes, we are actively seeking new substitutes; complete an application, have 3 professional references, pass the fingerprint/drug screening; prior classroom experience preferred but not required.

6) Are you at all concerned about the number of subs that may be needed if current teachers need to quarantine or test positive for the virus? Any numbers on these?  We are trying to increase our substitute pool so that as teachers need to be away from work they have a viable stand in during their absence.