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TUSD looks to improve substitute teaching coverage

POSTED January 27, 2012 9:00 p.m.

When Grady Welch was elected to the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees one of his major concerns was what he was hearing from school teachers and administrators about a lack of substitute teachers.

Welch said rumors abounded that on numerous occasions at various TUSD schools a lack of available substitute teachers forced students to sit on floors and learn in combined classrooms when teachers called in sick or had scheduled absences.

A current TUSD substitute teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said the lack of substitutes was rampant.

 “I’ve seen classes as recently as last month (December) where there were almost 60 kids in one room and not nearly enough desks — and it wasn’t just for one hour,” said the sub.

One of the issues brought up was that school site administration, teachers and staff would hold collaboration meetings requiring teachers to leave their classrooms.

“There have been days when I was going from classroom to classroom covering for teachers every 20 minutes or so. I’ve even worked in cafeterias and yard duty for teachers,” the sub said.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Heidi Lawler said schools do hire “roving” subs to fill in for teachers on collaboration days — typically Fridays. She added that Wednesday minimum days are contractual mandates from the teacher union because elementary teachers do not receive preparation periods like high school and middle school teachers. 

“We were working through these issues in the fall and administrators have been told to be more flexible with teacher schedules and be more mindful of when they schedule professional development,” said Lawler. “At the high school level this isn’t much of an issue because teachers will cover for each other during prep periods.”

A father of TUSD students, Welch had learned of these types of incidents like the anonymous sub had mentioned. He approached Board of Trustee President Eileen Hamilton about the number of substitutes employed by the district. Hamilton said she contacted TUSD human resource administration who maintains they have addressed the issue in recent weeks. Lawler said the district has a list of 438 substitutes and each year there is a formal procedure to identify how many of those subs will be available to work.

“We feel we have an adequate number of subs,” Lawler said.

According to Lawler, TUSD elementary school sites had 3,300 calls for substitutes from the beginning of school to the Christmas break and 80 of those jobs went unfilled.  Since students returned from break to Jan. 19, there have been 469 jobs and two have gone unfilled. This past week Lawler said schools had two leadership training days for teachers.

“We needed 70 substitutes and we had full coverage for all of those teachers. Through improved communication with our subs I really do believe we have worked past this issue,” said Lawler.   

“It looks like they’ve fixed this. It was a problem and it was one of my biggest issues but I’m glad they’ve looked at this,” said Welch.

Substitute teachers for TUSD are paid $95 a day. The average pay for subs in Stanislaus County is $96 a day. Subs are required to have a bachelor’s degree and pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test.

Earlier this month Natomas Unified School District was blasted in a 250-page report from Student Service Inc. as a “culture of entitlement” in which teachers called in sick so often that there weren’t enough substitutes to cover the classrooms. Lawler maintains this is not the problem in TUSD.

“Teachers have lives and things happen to them just like the rest of us. We have teachers who call in sick because their kids are sick and we can have teachers who will go out for lengthy periods of time for cancer,” she said.

One issue that remains a problem for TUSD is the lack of subs willing to take on special education classrooms.

“I think maybe some subs may feel they are not qualified. We are working to provide training for more support in special education,” said Lawler.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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