School districts across the nation are facing a shortage of substitute teachers and the Sioux City Community School District is looking to hire an outside company to help fill that need.
The district, speaking Friday on the need for both substitute teachers and para-professionals, says they are at a critical point.
"This has risen to the level of what I would call a crisis," said Superintendent, Dr. Paul Gausman. The district was only filling about half of their open classrooms at the height of COVID-19, and while the numbers have risen, "we're back in the 70 to 80% range and our fill rate, but that's just not good enough," Gausman said.
After exhausting many efforts to bring substitutes into the district directly, they are now looking at hiring an outside company, ESS based in Tennessee, to help.
"ESS is a very experienced company. They've been in place for 20 plus years," said Human Resources Director, D.r. Jen Gomez. "They are partnering with districts across the country and have shown to improve the fill rates in those school districts."
If approved by the school board during Monday night's meeting, ESS would begin promoting in Siouxland, looking for local people to help fill the gaps in the classrooms, dedicating a group of people to just finding those substitutes and getting them certified and trained.
"They are going to be able to dedicate the time and the attention that's needed to address the substitute coverage," Dr. Gomez said.
A big question for taxpayers is what will the district, if approved by the School Board, pay ESS to provide this service?
"I know there were some concerns about the cost of this company and essentially they are paid on the fill rate," Dr. Gomez said. "As far as filling the positions, that's how they're paid. And so they're essentially we're not spending more than what we normally would be spending on substitutes."
The district currently has about 270 substitute teachers but says they really need at least 500 to fill the need. Currently, when the district can't find a substitute to fill an absent teacher's place, other teachers and staff will step in and help cover, but that is not only overworking Sioux City staff but the students are impacted, too.
"We need help our teachers," Gomez said. "They're working extra. There are teachers that are working during their plan time to cover classes and they're working together."
The school board has also been meeting with ESS representatives ahead of their vote on Monday night, getting any questions they need answered before they vote. One concern was ending the relationship with ESS should the company not meet expectations. School Board President, Perla Alarcon-Flory says they will be able to stop service with ESS at any time if they feel the need to, without penalty. Another big factor was hiring local.
"What we were concerned about is the local people and we're going to be hiring local people," Alarcon-Flory said. "They are not one that is coming from other places just to fill in this position."
You don't need an education degree to be a substitute. They welcome people from all backgrounds with the proper certification.
"There are people out there that might be accountants or engineers or you know other professions," Alarcon-FLory said. "Maybe they have the skills, abilities and knowledge to get a substitute license and come and teach."
The bottom line is, Sioux City's school district, like many across the nation, is in desperate need of substitutes, not only for the kids but for the educators who are working tirelessly for the students.
"They're working as a team and they're supporting one another," Dr. Gomez said, praising the district's educators and staff, "but they're getting tired and we need to really help them out."
"You have to realize that for most teachers, being a teacher is not a profession or is not what they do," said Alarcon-Flory, "it is part of their identity, it is who they are."
The school board will vote Monday night on whether to hire ESS to provide substitute teachers. ESS educators will have benefits, like insurance and competitive pay.
The Sioux City School Board meets Monday night at the district's office building on 4th Street next to the Sioux City Public Museum at 6 p.m.
If you are interested in becoming a substitute teacher, you can visit the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners website here.
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