Schools lean on rover subs

District offers higher pay, other perks to recruit and retain pool of substitutes

Alli Wang, Opinion Editor

The district is struggling to fill in the teacher absences with substitutes and are relying on alternatives such as rovers and teachers during their prep period.

Though the number of available substitutes districtwide has increased from 71 at the end of last year to 90 this year, the loss of six long-term subs has left the district increasingly relying on rovers, who are the default substitute teachers who are at school daily.

Branham, which fluctuates between one and 10 available subs a day, turns to rover subs Fleurette Sevins and varsity football coach Stephen Johnson. Before being a rover, John- son had previously subbed at multiple schools.

To lure more subs, the district has increased the daily payout — $275 a day for long-term subs and $210 for short-term subs, up from at least $180 a day for long-term subs (those who work at least 21 days) and $165 for short-term subs.

For Johnson, being a rover has the benefit of not only increasing his pay, but it has also helped him feel more connected to school, since he’s a Branham alumni.

“I’m a young, vigorous on-campus coach now, so I’m definitely taking full advantage of the opportunity,” he said.

Johnson’s workload as a substitute teacher has become greater because more teachers have called out sick. This is good news for any sub, especially Johnson, who said the financial boost is supporting his new family.

The substitute teacher industry has been previously dominated by retired teachers, called super subs, but the pandemic has shifted the demographic towards being majority middle-aged educators, moving towards less available substitute shifts.

The district’s Meredyth Hudson, who oversees the human resources department said that the district expects to have an 8% absence rate among teachers on any given day. Mondays and Fridays are also days where they expect that absence rate to jump to 15% or 16%. The district employs more than 400 teachers.

“If you want to have a substitute pool, it should be about three times as big,” Hudson said. “We want to have about 90 to 100 active subs.”

With the tough substitute landscape, Hudson said that the district is working actively to find and attract substitutes, including paying for credentialing fees and hosting weekly information sessions.

Currently, when no substitutes are available, the district turns to Swing Education, a regional substitute agency. However, the company is also struggling to fill absences due to the greater demands for substitute teachers.

Substitute shortages are no stranger to Gay- le Boxill, who for 30 years has been managing substitutes for CUHSD. She said that the substitute shortage tends to be cyclical, happening around every decade. Still, she said the current shortages are unique.

“This has been a very unusual year,” Boxill said in an email. “Like many other districts, we are trying to adapt to the current landscape. These are not hardships, but they are new challenges.”

With many subs unavailable, healthy teachers such as yearbook and senior English teacher Kirsten McKay are also feeling the pressure to fill in for colleagues during their prep periods, forcing them to find ways to grade and plan more efficiently outside school work hours.

Though McKay said she had been managing to try to cut her work hours by grading more efficiently and teaching fewer classes, she knows other teachers have struggled to adjust to this year’s multiple hardships, including a pay dispute with the district and managing stress brought on by the pandemic.

“The shortage is like another pot catching on fire,” McKay said. “And you’re like ‘No, stop catching on fire!’ But then the pay cut adds another layer of [hardships] because this was already going to be a really weird year.”

In spite of the teacher work overload, McKay says that the goal has always been to support her students.

“I always knew this year was always going to be hard because we’re coming off the year where everybody has been in their house,” she said, “But we’re going to do what we can to get students ready for whatever their next step is.”