Northeast Ohio school districts try to draw in substitute teachers amid challenges

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CANTON, Ohio (WJW) – Schools across Ohio are struggling with a continued challenge that emerged during the pandemic and has only become worse.

Administrators say the need for substitutes in every job within a district has far outweighed the pool of people willing to do the jobs.

“Our fill rate was somewhere around the low 40% rate. We were having over 60% of our open spots going unfilled,” said Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Talbert.

The district is far from alone. In Summit County, Akron Public Schools is desperately trying to fill substitute teaching, tutoring and bus driving jobs.

Cuyahoga Falls Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols has the same needs.

“The greatest areas of need are two, and those are our classroom instructors and our bus drivers,” said Nichols,

He said the district is also in need of help in food service, comparing the shortage of workers in the restaurant industry to the struggles his district is having.

“We have nine restaurants, when you think about it,” said Nichols, referring to the cafeterias in each of the districts school buildings.

Full-time staff in many districts have re-worked their schedules, combining classes, working through their break times and getting every available qualified staff member to drive school busses.

All of the school districts are competing with each other to find help out of the same extremely diminished pool of available subs.

To help attract help, Akron is now offering incentives that include a $40-$60 daily pay increase.

Canton City Schools has sweetened the pot even more, offering sub rates that approach the starting pay rates for equivalent full-time employees, in some cases nearly doubling the daily sub rate.

“Any role in our organization supports our core business, so from a custodian to a person who works in our food service department, and this week is National School Lunch Week, to bus drivers to secretaries to classroom aids to teachers, if you are interested in working with our young folks, we have positions where we are hiring, we are looking for help both full-time and temporary work,” said Talbert.

The incentives seem to be working.

“We have been doing this for a week and we have already seen our fill rates go from 42% to around 65% and across our district, we have 35 teacher subs ready to be on board and its been a while for subs to on board,” he added.

The money is coming from pandemic funds and even Talbert admits it is likely unsustainable.

The Cuyahoga Falls superintendent believes money is not the biggest obstacle.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s a rate of pay issue. I think it’s just a matter of people wanting to work in a public sector environment with a lot of other people around all at the same time,” said Nichols.

Akron Public Schools will be having a job fair on Nov. 3, similar to one they held three weeks ago that the district says attracted 90 to 100 interviewees.

Canton’s superintendent says in addition to earning additional income, there are intangibles that come with working as a school district substitute.

“We have seen this work for us and again it’s about making sure that we are supporting our folks who are in the classrooms, in the buildings, doing the work that is so vital for our students and in the long run for the community,” said Talbert

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