In the first five months of the school year, the Lafayette Parish School System logged nearly 15,000 teacher absences, and in 2,000 cases, no substitutes were available to fill empty classrooms.
That’s 2,000 times since August that students were either taught by another teacher during his or her planning period or by someone else the school’s staff pulled in to provide instruction, said Bruce Leininger, the school system’s human resources director.
Leininger said his staff is considering potential solutions to the substitute shortage, including organizing a volunteer corps or even hiring permanent subs who would be on the payroll and act as itinerant or roaming teachers to fill in where they’re needed. He said his staff is exploring how other districts handle recruitment and hiring of substitute teachers.
“There’s one district in north Louisiana that doesn’t pay substitutes anything,” Leininger said. “They have rosters of parents who come in and act as substitutes.”
Other school districts face the same struggle, he said. Some school districts have even considered hiring employment agencies to manage the job of finding substitute teachers.
Leininger said the school system pays an average of $5 million annually hiring substitutes. So far this year, it has paid more than $2 million on substitutes, he said
Teacher absenteeism and looking at root causes is another way the school system is considering the issue, said Sandra Billeaudeau, assistant superintendent.
She said staff will present potential solutions for the School Board to consider, because decisions about how to address the problem will have an impact the school system’s budget.
Leininger asked legislators in a meeting last month to consider potential changes to state law that don’t require teachers to submit a doctor’s excuse until their sixth consecutive absence. A two- or three-day requirement may help curb abuses of the policy, he told legislators last month.
As of Jan. 7, 14,931 teacher absences had been reported, and the majority — 6,883 — of those absences were due to personal illness, followed by family illness, which was related to 2,112 absences.
Leininger acknowledged it could be difficult to recruit subs because of the pay and said other districts face similar issues in finding substitutes to fill in for absent teachers.
The school system pays $55 a day for substitutes who don’t have a college degree; $65 for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher; and $80 a day for certified teachers. Those hired as substitutes must undergo a four-hour training session. The sessions are held monthly, and the next is Feb. 27.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.