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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

SPS to consider raising substitute teachers’ pay to $200 daily as shortage vexes district

While Spokane Public Schools' policy on student safety and reporting incidents to law enforcement has drawn FBI scrutiny, parents largely lauded the district's approach at a regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday night.   (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Public Schools is considering a hefty pay raise for substitute teachers to keep students in school rather than close buildings as hundreds of teachers and other school employees stay home sick.

A late addition to Wednesday’s board agenda is a proposal to raise daily pay for substitutes from $150 to $200 – possibly through the end of the school year.

If approved, Spokane would be offering the highest compensation of any district in the region.

“As we work to continue in-person learning in an environment of high COVID case counts, we need to incentivize substitutes to accept positions,” the district said. “An increase in substitute teachers accepting positions will assist with the continuity of in-person learning.”

Earlier this year, Spokane Public Schools increased its daily pay for a certificated sub from $132 per day to $150.

Most neighboring districts have kept pace. At Central Valley School District, pay rose from $130 to $150 a day.

“And we’ve been actively looking at recruiting,” said Marla Nunberg, the district’s communications director.

In December, daily pay for subs in the Mead School District rose from $130 to $155.

“We have continued to hire as many emergency substitutes as we can,” communications director Todd Zeidler said.

At West Valley, daily pay rose to $150 on Jan. 3.

“We’ve been getting great support from our admins, our student-teachers – many people,” Superintendent Kyle Rydell said Tuesday.

“We’ve continued to find ways to Band-Aid solutions, and our staff has done a great job, day by day, as we’re trying to make it work.”

Spokane and other districts have taken several measures to fill classrooms.

Administrators and other staff have filled in at every building in the district. Earlier this month, the district shifted its calendar by closing schools on two occasions with plans for make-up days this spring.

The district also called on its central staff, dozens of whom went back to the classroom and found the experience rewarding enough to share with others.

“Our students and staff are dealing with so much right now, and yet there are still opportunities to celebrate being together in our classrooms,” said Stephanie Kerwien, the district’s elementary math coordinator, after subbing for several days at Bemiss Elementary School.

“I also loved the feeling of community in the buildings – there was always someone to help and support as needed,” Kerwien said.

But in a district of more than 30,000 students, that isn’t enough.

According to the school board agenda for Wednesday night, the district has 424 certified substitutes, but only 30% of them are regularly accepting substitute assignments.

The reasons for the shortage are varied, but most are a byproduct of the pandemic.

Many qualified substitutes are retired teachers who may be at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications and may feel uncomfortable returning to school buildings.

And like full-time teachers, substitutes must deal with the day-to-day rituals of the pandemic: mask mandates, COVID-19 testing protocols, physical distancing requirements and handwashing and sanitizing stations.

A national survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in early October found that 77% of principals and district leaders said they have struggled to hire a sufficient number of substitute teachers.