District rethinks hiring temp agency to cover substitutes

District rethinks hiring temp agency to cover substitutes

(Iowa) An Iowa school district is reconsidering a move to give a private employment agency control over substitute teacher hiring after the proposal hit a wall of protest earlier this month.

Des Moines Public Schools administrators will return with either a new or modified plan to alleviate a substitute shortage that leaves some 30 classrooms in need of oversight every day.

“I think it will provide a better opportunity – I think everybody gets more information,” school trustee Connie Boesen said during a hearing on the plan May 5.

“I believe they’ve tried to offer a solution that’s in the best interest of the students and it will be up to the board to determine if this is what we think is the best solution also,” she said.

The initial plan was to contract with Kelly Educational Staffing, which officials hoped would be better positioned to recruit more substitutes than the district, which currently lacks the resources to handle the job.

On any given day, it was reported, roughly 190 of Des Moines’ 2,800 teachers are absent.

Teacher absenteeism has long been an issue for some districts. A 2014 study from the National Council on Teacher Quality looked at 234,000 teachers in 40 districts and found that 16 percent could be classified as chronically absent because they missed 18 days or more of the school year.

Part of the problem at Des Moines Public Schools is that it competes with several suburban districts for available substitutes from a pool of just over 600. Sixty-three percent of those in the substitute pool are fully certified teachers and the remaining 37 percent have a substitute authorization, which requires having a four-year college degree and completion of a special class.

Des Moines is often unable to find enough substitutes to cover all the classroom openings it has on a daily basis. Statistics offered by the district show that on average, 18 percent of those classrooms are without a substitute, meaning other teachers and staff members are pulled from prep time or other duties to cover for their absent colleagues. In some cases, classes of students are split up and sent to rooms where a teacher is present.

By hiring Kelly Educational Services, the district had hoped to increase its daily classroom teacher “fill-rate” to 98 percent.

But during the sometimes passionate public debate on May 5, parents, teachers and community members expressed concerns that a for-profit company would not have the district’s nor its students’ best interests at heart. There was also the question of cost, estimated annually between $600,000 and $850,000.

Members of the Des Moines teachers union, which does not represent substitutes, argued that outsourcing the work could lead to fewer licensed substitutes and more substitutes with only a state authorization, which requires less training. In addition, they said, a temp agency would be less inclined to make sure all substitutes meet the highest level of standards.

But DMPS superintendent Thomas Ahart said Kelly Educational Services would ensure that substitutes meet all the state-mandated requirements and hold them accountable just as the district would.

“We didn’t entertain this option lightly. It has been well researched,” Ahart said during the board meeting.

He also pointed out that the district’s Human Resources department had expanded its capacity to try to deal with the problem but “we lack the expertise to grow the pool to achieve the desired fill-rate to serve our students as effectively as we can.”

Trustee Boesen said she had personally contacted several districts – two in Florida and one in South Carolina – that use Kelley Services for supplying substitutes.

Florida’s Duvall and Orange County school systems reported having a 99 percent fill-rate since contracting with Kelly in 2005, she said. In one instance, a district administrator told her they “would never go back to doing it in-house;” another said the service doubles as a successful recruitment tool for permanent teacher placements and that they hire 25 percent of the substitutes they work with.

Kelly Educational Staffing, a division of publicly-traded Kelly Services, reportedly has contracted with school districts in other states as well, including Texas and Missouri.

Through the company, school officials said, substitutes have access to benefits such as paid training and some health and retirement benefits – something they don’t receive otherwise.

A DMPS employee not authorized to speak on the record said a new hearing date for the proposal has yet to be set but that administrators are working to get something in place prior to the coming school year.

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