A lack of substitute teachers in the Mesa Public Schools has led to the state’s largest school district to look at increasing pay to recruit more teachers to the district.
Board member Marcie Hutchinson said MPS has a “substitute crisis” based on the 12 pages of the certificated and classified personnel request.
“It looks like we have about 20 teachers that are teaching on their prep, we have a number of residents and I couldn’t help but notice the 12 pages of [substitute teacher] duty pay where teachers are subbing on their prep,” Ms. Hutchinson said.
An MPS teacher told board members last week five teachers were out and only three substitutes were there to cover those spots, meaning some teachers had to teach on their prep.
Ms. Hutchinson said teachers who are teaching on their prep should be with the kids and prepping lessons and additionally, there are 10 substitute teachers who declined positions.
“We've got a problem, and I'm hearing about that from some folks,” she said.
The district has switched to modified two-day in-person learning model where half the students are remote Monday/Thursday, the other half are remote Tuesday/Friday and everyone is virtual on Wednesdays.
This means teachers have to teach in person and remotely at the same time while engaging all students simultaneously.
“I am teaching two groups of students at the same time and I feel that I am losing my remote students,” MPS teacher Rebekah Young said.
Other teachers echoed that sentiment, saying it was difficult to engage kids on the screen and in the class at the same time. Compounding the issue for substitute teachers is that many aren’t versed in the technology the district is using for remote learning, making it more difficult.
One teacher said when it comes to higher pay for subs, it won't do any good and that people still wouldn’t take the job because of their lack of comfort with the technology.
“I think this issue might be centered around subs who are long-term subs and not fully trained to work in this environment,” Ms. Young said. “I think they might be overwhelmed, too.”
Other teachers were pesimistic about drawing in new substitutes or other teachers, saying given the lack of people heading into the profession, it could be an uphill challenge.
Ms. Young said she believes higher pay for subs will help and that “MPS knows it’s a problem and [Young thinks] they are working to find solutions to make it better.”
James Driscoll, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, said sub duty pay traditionally wasn’t on documents given to the board, but that changed last school year. The district has since “educated our teachers and our principals that we have a policy in place that if teachers are subbing or they're taking over classes where the teacher went home sick, they can actually apply for that and get sub pay.”
“That's one of the main reasons why we're seeing an increase, a lot of teachers and schools are utilizing that when they're covering classes for other teachers who were out,” Mr. Driscoll said.
Ms. Hutchinson asked Mr. Driscoll if a study session will be held to discuss the lack of subs where Driscoll responded “I believe so.”
Mr. Driscoll said he looked at the data and believes the substitute problem is a school-by-school issue where some schools aren't able to get enough subs because some schools have more coverage than others.
“One of the recommendations that we'll put to the board is looking at our pay for our substitutes,” Mr. Driscoll said.
“We want to increase that. We think that'll make us really competitive against our other school districts around because a lot of the school districts already started before us, or starting right now in an in-person setting so a lot of the subs that were waiting for us to start in an in-person setting have went to other districts,” he said.
MPS also has tried to keep certain substitutes in the same schools to “maximize our subs of being at certain schools,” Mr. Driscoll said.
In addition to the lack of substitutes, “we also have a page and a half of classified resignations,” meaning there were teachers leaving the district, Ms. Hutchinson said.
“This doesn’t seem to be the usable actions that we see at this time of year,” Hutchinson said.
Sierra Alvarez is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.