New plan should help Ann Arbor Public Schools fill substitute teacher openings

Superintendent Jeanice Swift shares the substitute teacher plan with the Board of Education.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift shares the substitute teacher plan with the Board of Education.

By Andrew Cluley

AAPS Communications Specialist

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift believes a five point plan will help the district fill 100 percent of the substitute teacher openings in the district every day. Like districts across Michigan and the entire country, AAPS has found it challenging to find enough substitute teachers in recent years.

A big part of the problem in Michigan and elsewhere is the growing economy and shrinking unemployment numbers. While a positive for most people, it has reduced the size of the pool of candidates to serve as substitute teachers. To help address this concern, Ann Arbor Public Schools will offer substitute teachers $100 per day starting with the next pay period. That’s a $25 increase from what subs have been making.

Examining what type of a pay raise would be appropriate for substitute para-educators is the second effort AAPS officials are making to ensure enough subs are available.

While increase pay for substitute teachers and para-educators is expected to help, the district is also looking to create a team of “premier” subs. Swift says to fit into this category substitute teachers will need to meet higher qualification standards and commit to working a set number of days, including either Mondays or Fridays. “These ‘premier’ substitutes may be used to fill the late-occurring ‘morning’ unfilled positions or be leveraged in other beneficial ways, and will be compensated at a higher rate than regular substitutes, both in light of their qualifications and their commitment to the district,” Swift says.

Work still needs to be completed on this third phase of the plan, and Executive Director of Elementary Education Dawn Linden will lead the design and implementation effort.

While the stronger economy has made it more challenging for school systems across the country to find enough substitute teachers, there is also a challenge unique to Michigan. A 2010 change in state law eliminated one of the best pools of candidates for substitute teachers, recently retired teachers. Under the law retired public school employees can’t do contract work with an outside firm for a school district and continue to receive their pension and retiree health care subsidy.

Lawmakers temporarily patched this issue in 2012, but the legislation was allowed to expire in 2014. The Michigan House overwhelmingly this spring passed a new bill that would once again make it possible for retired teachers to work as substitutes without losing their pension and other retiree benefits. A Senate committee amended House bill 4059 to run through 2018, but the full Senate hasn’t taken up the issue yet. Advocating for the passage of this bill is the fourth step Ann Arbor Public Schools is taking to ensure enough substitute teachers are available.

School Board Vice-President Christine Stead believes the district also needs to look at this issue long term with some advocacy work in Lansing. “This bill buys us a couple more years, but it’s not really the real fix. So we need some work there to just pass some legislation that makes sense,” Stead says.

The final effort is to continue monitoring substitute teacher fill rates on a daily and weekly basis to make sure the problem is being addressed.

Swift says it’s important to get this plan in place quickly because the demand for substitute teachers increases as the weather gets colder. “Any minute now we’re liable to start having flu and other things that cause that rate to fluctuate,” Swift says.

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