Board members asked more than a few questions Tuesday about Shelby County Schools administration’s proposal to spend more money to outsource the hiring of substitute teachers than it currently costs the district to do it in-house.

This year the district has spent $9 million on hiring substitute teachers while the outsourcing proposal with Kelly Services has an estimated price tag of $11 million.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II advocated for the proposal and the increased expense because he said it would offer the district’s principals higher substitute teacher fulfillment rates, health insurance offerings for part-time employees which the district does not currently offer, and includes the added benefit of freeing district human resources staff to focus more on teacher recruitment rather than staffing services.

“We were looking at having a 100 percent (placement) rating for the long term,” Hopson said after Tuesday night’s meeting.

The district estimates that 800 to 1,000 Shelby County teachers are absent per day.  Hopson said principals in the district sometimes have to stretch staff to cover classrooms when there are numerous absences.  The district is currently able to fill 85 percent of substitute needs in the schools.  With Kelly Services, it is contracted that the fulfillment will be 97 to 100 percent.

“Our part-time substitutes would have exposure to healthcare and with our dwindling income, we’re looking at ways to save money and still improve services;  it all has to balance,” Hopson said.

Board member Teresa Jones said she couldn’t support the proposal not only because of the additional expense, but also because she saw too many “holes” in the overall proposal.

“I don’t think we should rush this,” Jones said after the meeting.  “I think we can afford to wait.  The staff doesn’t know all of the implications and without a clear understanding, I can’t support this.  I want to make sure that it all makes sense.”

Jones learned of the proposal only days before the work session and had not heard concerns from the district’s current substitute teachers regarding the proposal.

Jones requested to see a cost analysis that compares the current costs, for example the cost of employees and equipment used for their work, with outsourcing.

Board chairman Kevin Woods said he was in support of the proposal, but he wanted to hear from Sheila Redick, director of human capital, why the district advocated to maintain the salaries of substitute teachers in the outsourcing proposal while other recently outsourced departments, transportation and custodial, weren’t as fortunate.

“We wanted to remain competitive to attract substitute teachers,” Redick explained to board members.

Hopson took notice of  board members questions Tuesday night.

“You guys are tough tonight,” he quipped near the end of the meeting.  “Sounds like we have more work to do. Sharpen our pencils, if this is approved in June, is that enough time?”

Hopson said his administration is continuously looking for creative ways to effectively run the district and focus on the areas that need the most attention.

A report that addresses the boards questions and concerns will be prepared this week and discussed again at the May 27 business meeting.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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