2016-11-10 / Front Page

Lack of subs prompts pay increase

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – In response to ongoing difficulties finding substitute teachers, the Biddeford School Committee voted to raise the pay rate for substitutes.

The vote passed unanimously at the committee’s meeting on Oct. 25; a substitute will now earn $75 per day, and $85 per day if they have a teacher certificate or are a retired teacher. Biddeford School Department also expects to hold a job fair in November, along with Saco, as part of the remedy.

“The pool for substitute teachers is extremely limited. And that is not just a Biddeford situation, that is an every district situation in southern Maine,” said Jeremy Ray, Biddeford School Department’s superintendent.

According to Ray, Biddeford schools employ more than 200 teachers, but the pool of substitutes is about 20. That’s a lower ratio than Saco’s 250 teachers to 110 substitutes, and Old Orchard Beach’s 88 to 48, according to Superintendents Dominic DePatsy and John Suttie, respectively.

However, the superintendents agree that those numbers over-represent substitute availability.

Some people can only sub Monday and Wednesday,” Ray told the Courier in a separate interview. “And then they’re also subbing in multiple districts.”

Some only want to work with certain grade levels or at specific schools, et cetera,” DePatsy wrote in an email.

We’ve had some days where we’ve been down several subs in the district for the day,” Ray said.

Being low on substitute teachers often means staff may have to be pulled from other work, Ray said, or that other teachers may have to sacrifice their planning periods to step in to another class.

“Our prep periods are already loaded with stuff we need to do,” Doreen Collin, a teacher at Biddeford High School, wrote in an email. “What ends up happening is that we have to put all those things aside and then find time somewhere else to get them accomplished. That means doing more stuff at night and over the weekend. It makes our days seem even longer and harder. Don’t get me wrong, most teachers don’t mind helping out, but lately it seems like it’s a weekly event rather than only occasionally.”

“We have had to get creative with covering positions,” wrote Kerri LeSieur, who teaches first grade at Biddeford Primary School (BPS). “We have had to split classrooms up amongst that particular grade level . . . It is upsetting to some students when they arrive at school to find that their teacher is absent and that they are joining another room for the day. Some students adapt to the change well and others struggle with the unknown.”

“If a teacher is missing, a duty is uncovered, such as recess coverage,” wrote Kathy Lambert, a third grade teacher at BPS. “We have approximately 180 students out on recess at one time and need as much coverage as possible to provide a safe atmosphere.”

“Teachers have been forcing themselves into work while feeling ill,” wrote Rico Mariello, who teaches at Biddeford Middle School.

In general, the teachers are happy about the pay increase, and uniformly expressed gratitude to the administration.

“It shows that they are taking a vested interest and share our concern in this area,” Lambert wrote.

The vote to increase pay followed a prior unanimous vote by the department’s finance committee to recommend the increase. Before the change, the typical substitute earned between $60 and $70 per day, depending on their level of education and on whether they had taken a special training course.

“We wanted to make (pay rates) comparable some of the other schools in the area,” Ray said.

Biddeford schools draw substitute teachers from Kennebunk, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, according to Ray. Kennebunk’s typical pay, as part of Regional School Unit (RSU) 21, which covers Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel, is $75 per day. Both Saco and Old Orchard Beach pay the same as Biddeford’s former rates. According to Superintendent Suttie, however, Old Orchard Beach will vote whether to increase its rates at the RSU 23 School Board meeting on Nov. 17.

Biddeford School Department’s budget for substitutes for this year is $282,000. Ray believes that, while it could cost more eventually, the vote to increase pay will have a limited impact for this year.

“Even with the raise in the amount paid per day, we’re still not able to pull substitutes every day until we get that pool back,” Ray said. “There are so many days where we pay nobody.”

Ray expects that more will need to be done to increase the number of available substitutes. Saco and Biddeford are putting together a job fair in the coming weeks, citing the success of a similar event in Scarborough.

Retired teachers and non-teachers who are certified to teach are ideal candidates, Ray said.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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