April 13, 2008

Substitute Teachers ‘Ready for Anything’

By Autumn Grooms, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Apr. 13--Sally Sullivan's day as a substitute teacher at North Woods International School started well before the school bell rang. She welcomed kids to class, delegated responsibilities and waited for the unexpected.

"When you're a guest, you have to be ready for anything," the 69-year-old said. "I love it. I absolutely love it." Time came for the morning meeting. Sullivan and the first-graders gathered on a brightly colored rug to read a story and talk about the day.

"Hurry, hurry," she said to those still milling at their desks. "We have a lot to do today."

And with that, Sullivan opened "Click, Clack Moo: Cows that Type."

"Click, clack, moo," she read.

"Click, clack, moo," the first-graders replied.

The La Crosse School District spent $926,000 in the 2006-07 school year for substitute teachers, Janet Rosseter, executive director of business services said. It paid $45,695,806 in salaries and wages to staff that year, Rosseter said.

Substitute teachers are called in when regular teachers are ill or have scheduled appointments, personal days, meetings and conferences, said Doug Happel, associate superintendent of human resources.

They -- along with teacher assistants, secretaries and administrative assistants --filled an average of 70 positions each school day in February, according to the district.

The district has 625 teachers, so the February average represents "pretty good attendance," said Happel.

The number of subs in La Crosse schools peaked Feb. 7 and 8 at 100 and 115, respectively. Happel attributed the higher demand to a state reading conference.

Regular pay for subs in La Crosse is $112 for a full day and $56 for a half day. Pay for long-term substitutes is higher, ranging from $168 a day to $220 a day, depending on the teacher's educational degree.

What it takes to sub

La Crosse students are educated by licensed teachers even when a sub is brought in.

Happel said the district requires substitute teachers have a valid Wisconsin teaching license.

Holmen and Onalaska, however, will accept subs who have a substitute teaching permit, officials said.

However, Onalaska no longer will add people to its substitute list who aren't certified teachers, said Kathy Engh, the superintendent's secretary.

The permit, issued by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, allows people with a non-teaching bachelor's degree to accept short-term -- 20 day or less -- assignments in schools.

It has to be renewed every three years, and Onalaska no longer is willing to sponsor permits, Engh said. Those who still hold permits in the Onalaska system typically are sponsored by nearby rural school districts, which tend to have more difficulty finding subs.

La Crosse has 251 licensed teachers on its substitute roster, so it doesn't need to allow anyone who only has a permit, Happel said.

A regular substitute teacher can teach any grade in any subject. Long-term subs, however, must have the specific licenses required, he said.

A 5:30 a.m. call

While some substitutes might not be contacted until 5:30 a.m. about teaching that same day, Happel said most are hired in advance for planned absences. Prearranged subs accounted for 77 percent of those used in February.

To keep tabs on how often substitute teachers are being used, the district initiated a sign-up sheet for meetings that require a sub be called in for teachers, secretaries, administrative assistants and teacher assistants, Happel said.

It has helped with sub shortages on numerous occasions and regulates the number of meetings on particular days, he said.

Only two days in February were the district's two staff members who place calls for subs unable to find enough replacements for absent staff.

The Onalaska School District switched to an automated system two years ago that has boosted efficiency, Engh said.

AESOP allows subs to log onto a Web site and accept posted positions, while teachers can list an upcoming absence and download lesson plans as soon as they know, she said. They can also phone in for the same information.

"Very seldom do we have a day where we have to find a sub," she said. The program filled 31 positions within one to six hours for teacher and paraprofessional absences Thursday. Only one took longer.

Teachers who have the same certification as the absent teacher are offered first dibs by AESOP online and during the 5:30 a.m. calling, Engh said. But as time runs out, the system will open the positions to all available substitutes, including those with permits, she said.

Building secretaries handle any leftover positions, Engh said.

The AESOP system also is integrated with the Holmen School District and knows when a teacher is staffed in one of the two districts.

The rules for time off

La Crosse teachers receive 10 sick days and one personal leave day annually, Happel said. After 15 years, they can take two personal days a year. Sick days can accumulate to 130.

The district monitors the number of days taken, Happel said, and has seen no signs of abuse. No more than 25 employees are allowed to take the same personal day off, he said, and a two-day notice is required.

La Crosse's substitute teachers include men and women who have yet to secure a full-time teaching position, retired educators who still want to be in the classroom or people who simply enjoy the freedom of a substitute job, Happel said.

"It's a different job, subbing," he said. "If you do a good job, you can establish a good reputation, but on the flip, if you're not so good ... "

Returning to a career

Sullivan returned to classrooms in La Crosse and Onalaska after she and her husband sold their restaurant in 2001.

"Mrs. S," as the students call her, taught at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau Elementary School from 1960 to 1967, when she left to help run Sullivan's in Trempealeau, Wis.

But after more than 30 years of running non-stop, retirement had her "climbing the walls," she said. At husband Ed's urging, she returned to teaching in fall 2001.

"It has been the most wonderful thing that has ever happened," Sullivan said. "It's just the most wonderful experience, even at my age."

Pam Walters taught early in her career but opted to work part-time while raising two sons.

"When I decided to get back into education, I started by subbing and liked it well enough," she said. "I love the decision I made to come back to education."

Walters averages two days a week in La Crosse classrooms and enjoys working with the children and the variety and flexible hours the job provides.

"I used to teach at the high-school level and now most of my teaching is at the elementary level," she said. "It is a nice change for me."

Easy transitions

Sullivan and Walters said thorough lesson plans, class rosters complete with photographs and friendly neighboring teachers help make their day easier.

"I try really hard, particularly with elementary children, to learn their names quickly," Walters said. "It helps with classroom control and builds relationships with children."

But for the women, subbing is more than just another job.

"The students are a delight to work with," Sullivan said. "Many times, I find myself learning with them."

Autumn Grooms can be reached at (608) 791-8424 or [email protected]

What subs earn in AREA schools

La Crosse School District

substitute teacher pay rates for the 2007-08 school year:

REGULAR SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: $112 for a full day, $56 for a half

LONG-TERM SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: $168.06 daily for a bachelor's degree and $220.84 daily for a master's degree after the 16th day of continuous teaching in one position


LONG-TERM TEACHER ASSISTANT SUBSTITUTE: $9.40 per hour after 15 days in the same position


LONG-TERM ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT SUBSTITUTES: $12.40 after 15 days in the same position


Onalaska School District

substitute teacher pay rates for the 2007-08 school year:

REGULAR SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: $95 for a full day and $110 after the 10th day

LONG-TERM SUBSTITUTE TEACHER: Earns the bachelor's degree base pay of $31,880.

Holmen School District substitute teacher pay rates for the 2007-08 school year:

Regular substitute teacher: $100 per day

Long-term substitute teacher: $150 after 10 days

Sources: La Crosse School District Substitute's Handbook; Kathy Engh, Onalaska School District secretary to the superintendent; Holmen School District

The cost of substitute teachers

Substitute teacher costs for area school districts during the 2006-07 school year.

La Crosse School District

Total staff salary and wages: $45,695,806

Substitute teacher costs: $926,000

Onalaska School District

Total staff salary and wages: $14,915,921

Substitute teacher costs: $275,869

Holmen School District

Total staff salary and wages: $21,135,383

Substitute teacher costs: $424,566

Note: Holmen School District staff salary and wages includes bus drivers, since they do not contract out services as do La Crosse and Onalaska.

Sources: La Crosse, Onalaska and Holmen school districts.


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