Seeking substitutes

Wanted: Furloughed federal workers who can step into the classroom

PHOTO: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Union workers demonstrate Jan. 10 in Washington, D.C., against the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Routinely short of substitutes to fill in for absent teachers, a number of large school systems are appealing to furloughed federal workers to step in and earn some extra cash amid the longest partial government shutdown in the nation’s history.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is among the latest to go on a hiring offensive, urging federal employees on Tuesday to apply to be substitute teachers if they’re looking for work.

“We understand this is a tough time for many families impacted by what is happening at the national level,” said Amber Tyus, director of talent acquisition for the 85,000-student district. “We believe this is a way for workers to find employment that benefits them and the thousands of young people we serve in this district every day.”

Closer to Washington, D.C., several districts in northern Virginia and suburban Maryland are targeting federal workers who are currently without a salary.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has held two hiring events in the past week, and “the response has been overwhelming,” said John Torre, a district spokesman.

“We are always in need of substitutes,” he added.

Just over half of the 800,000 government workers impacted by the shutdown are deemed “essential,” and therefore must continue to work without pay; the rest have been furloughed.

The nation appeared no closer to a resolution on Tuesday as the shutdown dragged into its fourth week due to President Trump’s funding impasse with Congress. Trump wants $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Federal workers missed their first paychecks last Friday, and many have struggled to pay their bills and feed their families. But that harsh reality also presented an opportunity for school districts needing professionals who can step into a classroom at a moment’s notice.

In Nashville, a substitute teacher can earn upwards of $1,300 every two weeks. There’s also a big need to support the district’s 5,200-plus certified teachers.

The school system must place substitutes in about 550 classrooms every day as teachers miss school due to illness, vacation, professional development, or other reasons. Tyus says about 900 more people are needed to round out the district’s 1,300-member substitute pool, noting: “We recognize our substitute teachers play an integral part in educating the students of MNPS.”

In Tennessee, substitute teachers must have a high school diploma or their GED, and some districts require a bachelor’s degree.

Applicants in Nashville must complete an online application, submit official college transcripts, clear a background check, and pass an online training course. The paperwork can take less than two weeks to process.

Requirements vary from state to state and district to district, so not all furloughed workers are eligible to work for their local school. For those who are, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators views hiring them as a win-win.

“There is a massive shortage for teachers and substitute teachers, so being creative and making lemonade out of lemons is a fabulous idea,” said Kelly Coash-Johnson, the association’s executive director.

Nationally, teachers miss an average of 11 days a year, according to a 2014 analysis of large districts by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

negotiations

Aurora school board reverses course, accepts finding that district should have negotiated bonuses with union

Students in a math class at Aurora Central High School in April 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Following weeks of criticism, the Aurora school board on Tuesday reversed course and accepted an arbitrator’s finding that a pilot bonus system violated the district’s agreement with the teachers union.

The Aurora school district rolled out an experiment last year to offer bonuses to some teachers and other staff in hard-to-fill positions, such as psychologists, nurses and speech language pathologists.

The teachers union argued that the plan should have been negotiated first. An arbitrator agreed and issued a report recommending that the pilot program stop immediately and that the district negotiate any future offerings. The union and school board are set to start negotiations next month about how to change teacher pay, using new money voters approved in November.

When school board members first considered the arbitrator’s report last month, they declined to accept the findings, which were not binding. That raised concerns for union members that the district might implement bonuses again without first negotiating them.

Tuesday’s new resolution, approved on a 5-1 vote, accepted the full arbitrator’s report and its recommendations. Board member Monica Colbert voted against the motion, and board member Kevin Cox was absent.

Back in January 2018, school board members approved a budget amendment that included $1.8 million to create the pilot for incentivizing hard-to-fill positions. On Tuesday, board member Cathy Wildman said she thought through the budget vote, the school board may have allowed the district to create that incentive program, even though the board now accepts the finding that they should have worked with union before trying this experiment.

“It was a board decision at that time to spend that amount on hard-to-fill positions,” Wildman said.

Board president Marques Ivey said he was not initially convinced by the arbitrator’s position, but said that he later read more and felt he could change his vote based on having more information.

Last month, the Aurora school board discussed the report with its attorney in a closed-door executive session. When the board met in public afterward, it chose not to uphold the entire report, saying that the board could not “come to an agreement.” Instead board members voted on a resolution that asked the school district to negotiate any future “long-term” incentive programs.

Union president Bruce Wilcox called the resolution “poorly worded” and slammed the board for not having the discussion in public, calling it a “backroom deal.” Several other teachers also spoke to the board earlier this month, reminding the newest board members’ of their campaign promises to increase transparency.

Board members responded by saying that they did not hold an official vote; rather the board was only deciding how to proceed in public. Colorado law prohibits schools boards from taking positions, or votes, in private.

The board on Tuesday also pushed the district to provide more detailed information about the results of the pilot and survey results that tried to quantify how it affected teachers deciding to work in Aurora.



story slam

The state of teacher pay in Indiana: Hear true stories told by local educators

It’s time to hear directly from educators about the state of teacher pay in Indiana.

Join us for another Teacher Story Slam, co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy. Teacher salaries are the hot topic in education these days, in Indiana and across the country. Hear from Indianapolis-area teachers who will tell true stories about how they live on a teacher’s salary.

Over the past two years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from the teachers, students, and leaders of Indianapolis through our occasional series, What’s Your Education Story? Some of our favorites were told live during teacher story slams hosted by Teachers Lounge Indy.

Those stories include one teacher’s brutally honest reflection on the first year of teaching and another teacher’s uphill battle to win the trust of her most skeptical student.

Event details

The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, March 15, at Clowes Court at the Eiteljorg, 500 W Washington St. in Indianapolis. It is free and open to the public — please RSVP.

More in What's Your Education Story?