Spokane-area schools face a shortage of substitute teachers and instructional aides. The same is happening across the state and nation, with districts scrambling to fill vacancies, especially on Fridays.
“It’s affecting everyone,” said Ferris High School teacher Jeff Halstead. “The sub shortage, to me, is a precursor to a bigger problem. … You need to have a big talent pool to get your top educators.”
To fill gaps in classrooms, teachers often spend their prep periods covering classes, principals or other administrators step in, and content specialists teach outside their areas of expertise.
In Spokane Public Schools, the problem was exacerbated by adding 30 extra minutes to the school day, spokesman Kevin Morrison said. The longer day required 55 new educators, many of whom came from the existing sub pool.
Areas particularly hard to fill are instructional aides, especially ones working with special education students.
“I do think we need to look at how we do things a little differently, (and) is our pay appropriate,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said.
Mary Templeton, director of certificated personnel for Spokane Public Schools, said the district is working to fill the vacancies. One possible way is requesting an emergency substitute teacher certificate from the state schools superintendent. That would permit the district to use substitutes who have a bachelor’s degree but not a teaching certificate.
The district also is soliciting retired teachers and administrators to be substitutes, Templeton said.
“We need to be careful because we do want to make sure we have substitutes who want to be there and have the qualifications,” Redinger said.
Templeton said the district is short 30 to 40 substitutes. The district pays certified substitutes $116.52 per day.
Mead School District also faces a sub shortage and is applying for emergency substitute certification. Like Spokane Public Schools, the Mead district has hired from within its sub pool.
As of this month, the Mead district raised the daily certified sub wage to $115, from $100, Assistant Superintendent Ralph Thayer said. Instructional aides are paid $9.50 an hour.
“It’s hard to find replacements for IAs, especially in the more challenging positions,” Thayer said. “It’s hard to find people when it’s $9.50 an hour.”
According to a report this month by the state Professional Educator Standards Board, teachers are exiting the profession across the state.
“Currently, Washington teachers are leaving at a rate that we have not seen for at least the past decade,” the report stated.
Districts hired people to fill 7,300 vacancies last year. Of those, 4,700 were new positions. Over the last year, the report continues, the state has had a 250 percent increase in demand for new teachers.
Some of the shortage originates at the university level, where teacher education programs are seeing lower enrollment numbers.
Marion Moore, chair of Eastern Washington University’s education department, said the school’s numbers have been consistently short, especially in special education and STEM programs.
“As we’re experiencing additional shortages in other areas, I think it’s going to make shortages in those areas even more challenging,” Moore said.
A change in state law that requires special education teachers to have an additional endorsement has made it harder to fill those positions, she said. Other areas, like elementary education, don’t need additional endorsements.
Although it can be tricky to fill vacancies on Fridays, Halstead said the shortage itself doesn’t concern him as much as the effect it has on quality. Although Halstead has been a teacher for 30 years, he said he started out, as many do, as a substitute.
“I learned a ton in that year,” he said. “That, to me, is the real concern. … Essentially the lack of substitutes represents a great decline in the talent pool, and that’s scary.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.