Administrators and district employees at South San Francisco Unified School District have resorted to overseeing classes in response to a shortage of substitute teachers that has forced school districts to reevaluate what it offers to potential reinforcements.
“It’s not ideal,” Superintendent Dr. Shawnterra Moore said in a press release. “But it’s a great way to reconnect with our roots as classroom teachers. Having the opportunity to see our students in class again is also very exciting.”
Like school districts across the state, SSFUSD has struggled to find substitute teachers to fill in when permanent teachers have needed to step away from the classroom. The staffing shortage has been a concern for years with the region’s high cost of living and role’s inconsistent hours believed to be pushing candidates away.
But district spokesperson Peter Feng said that while the issue has been long-standing, it’s become more prominent this school year when students are returning to the classroom after months and even more than a year of remote learning.
Feng theorized potential candidates may still be weary about the pandemic and taking on a job that offers no benefits, a sentiment shared by Jay Spaulding, assistant superintendent of human resources, in the district’s press release.
“Like everything, the pandemic has caused many to reevaluate their priorities,” Spaulding said. “Our substitute teaching positions are all part time, and people may be looking for more full-time work at this time.”
And despite a district policy encouraging staff and students to remain home if experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, Feng said teachers have been calling out at a similar rate to previous years, further suggesting the issue is one of supply.
The staffing shortage has been felt at all districts in the county and has touched varying roles. Some have included recruitment calls in newsletters to parents, encouraging people to seek positions as yard supervisors, bus drivers, nurses and substitutes.
Administrators at the San Mateo Union High School District have also stepped in to oversee classrooms this year, Superintendent Kevin Skelly has said. And meal service crews have become so tight at SSFUSD that the district had to temporarily postpone offering breakfast at its middle and high schools a week into the school year.
Feng said the district has been advertising the open positions on edjoin.org and on social media but has yet to attract enough applicants to fill needed roles. He was unable to say whether district officials would consider increasing pay rates for substitute teachers to make its offer more competitive.
The district currently offers a daily rate of $185, according to its website. Substitute teachers who work five to 20 consecutive days are eligible to earn $200 a day while those working beyond that time frame can receive $240.
Comparatively, starting pay for substitute teachers at SMUHSD is $200, while Sequoia Union High School District offers $195 and Burlingame School District offers $160. BSD Superintendent Chris Mount-Benites has said the district would consider increasing its rate, a step the San Carlos School District Board of Trustees took on Oct. 7.
Meanwhile, Feng said administrators have been able to cover any gaps in staffing when necessary while balancing their official duties and will continue to do so until the district’s registry of substitute teachers is adequately filled.
“In uncertain times, communities come together to look out for one another,” Moore said in the press release. “At SSFUSD, we are a family, and we are all in this together.”
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