Dist. 728 to take new tact in finding subs for teachers

Managing Editor

One of four things happened this past school year when a teacher called in sick or was called away to a meeting in the Elk River Area School District.

Most of the time, a school secretary found a substitute teacher to fill in for the absent teacher, but the success rate in doing this was only about 87 percent most days. It was harder on Mondays and Fridays to find a replacement teacher.

The other solutions included pulling teachers off of their prep times, combining classrooms or leaving it up to the school principal to run the class. It has been like this for a couple of years, according to Tim Caskey, the school district’s director of labor relations and personnel services.

District 728 administrators plan to take a different tact beginning this year, and they will sign a two-year contract with Teachers on Call, a private firm with a fill rate of 96 percent.

Teachers On Call is a substitute staffing service that hires licensed teachers, paraprofessionals and early child care staff. It partners with schools and centers in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin to fulfill their needs for short- and long-term substitutes. The firm handles everything from the hiring and training of substitutes, benefits, tracking their hours and finding them when a school secretary calls saying they need someone to sub for a day, according to Caskey.

It’s not free, but neither are alternative measures being used now to provide students with a teacher.

Caskey told members of the Elk River Area School Board on July 24 they have studied it and it will be a wash. “I think it’s going to be a pretty good deal,” Caskey said.

District 728 school administrators say their struggles of finding substitutes on their own is due to a shortage of substitute teachers and the fact that they compete with nearby school districts who often fish from the same pool. Administrators have been looking for a cost-effective solution the past couple of years.

Teacher On Call, an Apple-Valley based business that already works with 137 school districts in two states, has access to more than 9,600 substitute teachers. They will work to roll the list of 230-some on-call substitutes that District 728 has tapped into their system. The outfit is expected to have more than 11,000 substitutes by the end of 2017.

The struggle

When a substitute can’t be found under the current system, schools turn to less than ideal solutions. Some cost a significant amount of money, too.

Caskey said one of three things happen when a substitute can’t be located to fill in for an absent teacher:

•Teachers get pulled off their prep time to help out. These teachers lose out their time within the school day to prepare for a class or classes, and it costs the district extra to cover the negotiated cost of such an exchange.

Elementary school teachers get 60 minutes of preparatory time each class day, and secondary teachers get five minutes of prep time for every 25 minutes of instruction time, Caskey said.

Teachers filling in on their prep are paid an hourly rate based on their experience and amount of school. The average rate is about $55 an hour, Caskey said.

•Classrooms get combined to make one big class where the load can be shared among the professionals assigned to that classroom.

•The principal must fill in for the teacher and teach students for an hour or more, pulling that person away from their administrative duties.

New approach

Teacher On Call’s 96 percent fill rate across the seven-county metro is quite appealing to the district. It’s even as high as 95 percent in the St. Paul School District, which has 3,000 teachers.

To pull it off, Teachers On Call has eight full-time recruiters and 60 full-time staff providing sub services, client services, recruiting and training.

The company also assumes responsibilities such as payroll, liability insurance and tracking for the Affordable Care Act and to know when benefit thresholds are reached.

“They already do this,” Caskey said. “They also offer bonuses.”

Teacher On Call works with districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin and that number is growing. As they add districts, they add substitute teachers who have helped those districts in the past to their list.

“When they hire, they take the person through all the necessary training to be in a classroom,” Caskey said, noting his department will send out letters to their subs inviting them to apply for a job with Teachers On Call.

The Elk River Area School District will continue to use its base program to fill planned absences, but when they need someone immediately, secretaries will now make only one call.

“Instead of going down a list of known substitutes, they will call Teachers On Call and they will take care of it,” Caskey said.

This way the district is no longer bidding against other school districts. “We tell them what we need, and it’s their responsibility to fill it,” Caskey added.

About Teachers on Call

Teachers On Call has been working with schools and centers since 1999. The business provides substitute education professionals to more than 100 school districts throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as over 150 charter schools and early child care centers in the Twin Cities metro area.

As a result of its success, it is now expanding into schools and districts in Iowa.

The firm partners with Frontline Technologies to combine the power of the Absence Management (Aesop) System with the substitute staffing solutions of Teachers On Call. Teachers On Call’s staff uses its knowledge and expertise to connect qualified substitutes with the schools that need them, and it provides ongoing and personalized support for all parties.

Substitutes Any Time was formed as a division of Teachers On Call in 2014 to offer the same substitute staffing strategies and solutions to schools in Arizona.