COVID-19 affects substitute teacher numbers

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Flags wave in the wind outside the USD 457 Educational Support Center, 1205 N. Fleming St.

Substitute teacher staffing has been an issue all school year due to COVID-19 and is a contributing factor in determining individual building operation levels and the overall district level.

Heath Hogan, human resources director and deputy superintendent, spoke about staffing issues as it related to COVID-19 at Monday's regular Garden City Board of Education meeting.

The average fill rate, the ability to back-fill positions when staff is gone, is typically 72%, however this year the rate was 57%, Hogan said.

"Getting substitutes on a good year is certainly difficult, but this year due to COVID and the circumstances and the higher need for substitutes, has certainly been a challenge," he said.

The lowest fill rate of the school, year was 33% and the highest was 72%. However, there was only one day that the fill rate was 72%, Hogan said.

From the first of October until winter break, there were six days where the fill rate was 30-39%, 12 days where it was 40-49%, six days where it was 50-59%, six days where it was 60-69% and one day where it was 70-79%.

The week of Jan. 5-8, there was a rebound with a fill rate of 80%, Hogan said.

"When you've gone through the many, many days or 30% and those type of things, last week was certainly a celebration and we had 80% of our requests that we were able to fill," he said.

Throughout the school year so far the district has had 31 substitutes who have indicated they could work primarily every day and 55 part-time substitutes, Hogan said. Additionally, 18 substitutes indicated that they don't plan to work.

"These are people that have worked for us in the past and that we would have on our sub list," he said. "They told us that they don't plan to work until COVID is under control, is no longer a concern."

Not having enough substitute teachers has an impact when talking about appropriately staffing a building, Hogan said. 

"When we're unable to do that, it just puts an extreme amount of stress on everybody in that building, from the secretaries who might be helping organize that, the administrator who has to come up with a Plan B, the additional teachers on that team or neighboring teachers next door that are willing to give up their plan time," he said. "We do compensate them for that time, but it still matters if it's one more thing."

Besides substitute teachers, the district also has seen a need for substitutes in other departments, including nutrition, transportation and custodial.

Hogan said the custodial substitutes are becoming depleted because as positions open up, they move the substitutes into full-time roles.

In transportation, there have been two days where they have utilized every available resource to have drivers, Hogan said. That includes the mechanics, who all have their commercial driver's license, and all of the department's office staff, with the exception of the director.

"Charlie really has to be a on-the-spot, creative problem solver, but that's a matter of contacting parents, bus routes that are running late, they have to double up in some routes — when they finish one, go start another one," he said. "That staffing is really impacting us through COVID."