SUNDERLAND — A shortage of substitute teachers is making it harder to run the Taconic & Green Regional School District’s five schools, its superintendent said Tuesday night.
But solving the problem is not as simple as increasing pay for the job, Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe told the Taconic & Green Regional School Board.
“I continue to be very concerned about the lack of substitutes at our schools,” Lowe said in her written report to the board. “Every day we are trying to fill multiple positions with a far fewer number of subs. It is not uncommon for there to be one substitute and 5 to 15 positions that need to be filled for partial or full days.”
It’s not only a T&G or BRSU problem: Superintendents across the state are struggling to fill those positions, Lowe said.
It’s not a question of qualifications, she told the board. When board member Melanie Virgilio of Sunderland asked if recent high school graduates might help fill the gap, Lowe noted that a high school diploma is among the minimum qualifications.
“We are one month into the school year, and if we don’t find reprieve, this is the issue that will have the most detrimental impact on our educational programming,” Lowe said in her report. “We are pulling staff from their positions to cover partial or full days, leaving their regular assignment unfilled. This means that [aides], special educators and interventionists are not providing essential services to students. Unified arts teachers are covering for classrooms, and classes are doubling up. The strain is already taking a toll and adversely impacting our ability to provide the programming we know our students need.”
The district pays $14.50 hourly for substitute teachers, with additional incentives available for regular subs, Lowe said. But asked if the district could raise that rate, she pointed to two limiting factors: the difficulty of paying subs more than aides, and a looming fiscal 2024 budget that Lowe thinks will be the most difficult in years.
Board member Jon Wilson of Manchester asked if the difficulties caused by a substitute shortage are a greater cost in the long run.
“Maybe [$14.50 an hour was OK] a few years ago — not in this labor market,” he said. “How much is it costing us to keep it that low?”
But Lowe said the end of federal ESSER funding, despite continued needs for the programs those dollars pay for, will present a significant challenge for the 2024 budget.
“This is not going to be easy,” she warned.
Board member Jane Worley of Peru asked if the district had considered bringing in AmeriCorps volunteers as subs.
“I don’t know the guidelines ... I’ll look into anything at this point,” Lowe replied.
Asked by Board Chairman Herb Ogden of Mount Tabor if a permanent floating teacher might solve the problem, Lowe said she could add such a position at both MEMS and Flood Brook School “and keep them busy every day.”