The 2021-2022 school year for the Sioux City Community School District has largely gone off without a hitch, except for one issue, there are not enough substitute teachers, something districts nationwide are facing.
Along with struggling to find teachers, the district also needs stand-ins for other staff, like food service, administrative and transportation. One issue they are working to resolve is finding a better way to communicate openings to their available substitutes.
"As we're finding out more about this process our internal processes at the district," said school board president Dan Greenwell. "Not all subs available subs are being contacted on a regular basis."
The district is already working to rectify this issue, "we are working right now to hire a new person within the team that will control and operate manage the subsystems for the district in a new way than we've ever done before," said Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman.
Back in November, the school board was presented with an option to hire an outside company to bring in substitutes for the district, hiring within the tri-state to fill the need. Ultimately, the board decided to make a few changes in-house before taking that step.
"What we're finding out in the process now is there's a lot of things that we could do on our own before we say to say hey, let's pay some out of state firm to assist us," Greenwell said about the board's decision to not hire the out-of-state company.
The biggest issue at hand, addressing substitute teacher pay.
Currently, Sioux City pays its substitutes on a three-tier pay scale which was increased on January 2nd.
A substitute who works between one and 20 days, will receive $140 per day, an increase of $25. A tier two substitute, who works between 21 to 50 days, will receive $180 per day, a $45 increase. A tier three substitute, working more than 51 days, will receive $210 a day, a $30 increase.
They've also m retired educators who want to step back into the classroom.
"Our old policy was to start retired teachers at the lowest level of pay. And the question is, did that make sense? And the answer was clearly no, it didn't make sense," Greenwell told Siouxland News. "They have 20 and 30 years of experience, why would we start them with the lowest level of pay? They're the most experienced most familiar with our district, moving to the highest level pays."
Now the district is looking at the other positions that need to be filled. "But we're bringing forward recommendations to the board for all other positions as well," Dr. Gausman said, such as food service and instructional assistants and others and so we know that that the market has changed rapidly through the pandemic."
With the rise in inflation, the district acknowledges that this raise in pay may not be enough.
"Inflation is real right now, and costs have gone up.," Gausman said. "And, you know, certainly the board made a significant change in the amount that we're paying in wages, but we know some of that's being eaten up by that inflation and so we want to stay ahead of this challenge as we move forward."
One other issue the district is running into is not one they can really tackle themselves. A backlog at the state level for those who want to step up and become a substitute has left many waiting several months for the appropriate documents needed to teach.
Greenwell has reached out to Iowa's start representatives to see how bad that backlog is. "The state has a significant delay in their process, which means applicants who want to sub can't because they don't have their sub license. So these are the type of things that we're finding out right now in advance."
Board members who aren't already educators have applied to be substitutes and administrative staff is stepping up and back into the classroom as well, including Dr. Gausman, who has stepped in to direct band and a few other classes. "You know, having been school superintendent now for nearly 20 years. It was a little different to plan my day to go in and be an instructor," he said.
In November, when Siouxland News first discussed this issue with the district, Sioux City had about 270 people on their substitute list. While that number has grown, they need approximately 500 to fill the need district-wide. The district is doing what it can to fill open positions. but they still need more qualified substitutes and not just for the classroom. If you're interested in becoming a sub, contacting the district is the first step.
District Administration and the school board continue to look at ways to make positive improvements for teachers, faculty, substitutes and of course, the students.
"I think with the increased pay with improving our internal processes and over time, I think you're going to see an improvement in our sub situation," Greenwell said.
Gausman agreed, "I prepared for my work, you know, in future days going into classrooms, it's just something I need to do like others need to do we all have to roll up our sleeves and helped, you know, work our way through this challenge together.
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