It’s hard to believe that PCSD students are into their third month of in-person school – that’s a huge victory for kids, the district, and working families. In-person school tops our household list of things to be thankful for this year.
That’s due to hard work (and some luck) at many levels – and a group that has played an outsized role this year — substitute teachers. Subs fly under the public radar most of the time. They’re not your kid’s daily teacher, and you’ll often never meet one. They don’t usually sign report cards and your child might not remember their name.
But this year more than ever, subs are critical. If a teacher isn’t feeling well, or their child at the high school is quarantining, they have no choice – they can’t come to work. That means subs have to step in to keep the school functioning. Many subs also work long-term jobs of 3 or more weeks, sometimes the entire school year.
It’s news to no one that teachers are underpaid. But subs do much worse – $13-15 an hour, with no benefits. That’s right, you can literally start for the same amount at Smith’s. Subs receive no benefits whatsoever – but they come to work anyway, because they’re parents and community members who care deeply about kids and education.
So when PCSD announced that effective January 3rd, the entire substitute teacher corps would no longer be employed by the district, and instead would work for a 3rd party temp agency called EDUStaff, based in Michigan, our reaction was disbelief. Every current sub must reapply for their current job, including spending hours on an online application (literally, we spoke with a sub who is on hour 3 and at step 10 of 22) and an in-person interview – which conveniently can only be scheduled during the school day.
The district claims that they need more subs and that hiring this 3rd party company is a way to get them.
At the Park Rag, we have a number of questions about this:
- Shouldn’t our first priority be to retain the subs we have? Many subs feel disrespected and unvalued. One sub we contacted told us “I didn’t sign up to work for a temp agency.” They take pride in working for the district, even for minimal pay and respect. Many may quit.
- If hiring more subs was a priority, why didn’t this happen over the summer? Why change the entire system in the middle of the school year? Subs and teachers tell us they had no warning of this change and were never consulted until the announcement dropped – the day before Thanksgiving break.
- Where was the outreach to parents and community members? We can’t recall hearing a word about substitutes on KPCW, the Park Record, or via direct communication from the district. Our natural sub pool lives right here in Park City – but it doesn’t appear PCSD ever reached out to them.
- EDUStaff presumably makes money on this arrangement. Why not try raising the sub pay, advertising for subs, or paying referral bonuses to teachers/subs who recruit new substitutes? This is money that could be used to actually solve the problem.
When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Low pay, low respect, and little or no effort at recruiting/retaining subs has indeed resulted in a shortage. Throwing the subs we have further under the bus will exacerbate it.
At a macro level, this may be just as bad. Making a fundamental change on the night before schools go on Thanksgiving Break is ill-timed. It feels like an action a large corporation would take when it’s trying to get away with something. It doesn’t engender trust with the public.
We hope that the Park City School District will reconsider this decision. If not, the substitute teacher shortage may become even worse. No one likes to feel treated like crap.