San Francisco Low on Substitutes, High on Admin Salaries

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San Francisco schools, which have navigated a bumpy road to begin the school year, are finding that substitutes are not always available to cover classes when teachers in the Bay area call out sick.

Just this September, 1,618 teachers in the area called out sick, but there were only 1,325 substitutes available to cover their classes.  That means there is a 20% chance every time a teacher calls out sick that someone other than a substitute will need to cover a class.

Once teacher absences for personal leave or training are factored in, an additional 550 instances of principals having to find classroom coverage are added to September’s numbers.  That equates to 14,000 students who are not getting the education they expect when they come to school.

Teachers who planned absences in advance are more likely to obtain a substitute.  Despite this, there is still a shortage of substitutes, leaving one in ten classrooms without a qualified teacher.

An increase in training days due to the implementation of Common Core standards are mostly to blame for the shortage, as the additional days are adding to the need for substitutes.  And with the economy regaining strength, people who used to be substitutes are now able to find other employment.

In order to remain on the list of active substitutes, applicants must work a total of 36 school days, or 20% of the 180 day school year.

More substitutes have been needed recently due to an increase in teacher retirements, a lack of new recruits and high attrition rates.  In addition, the bettering economy has allowed for higher competition rates among districts.

“It’s become an employees’ market versus an employers’ market,” said Scott Gaiber, San Francisco Unified director of certificated staffing and recruitment. “There is a lot more competition for talent.”

Fewer people overall are showing interest in becoming teachers.  While there were 45,000 people enrolled in teacher preparation programs in California in 2008, that number dropped to fewer than 20,000 by 2013, reports the state Commission on Teacher Credentials.

However, education budgets in the state are increasing, allowing for the hiring of more teachers.  Due to the reduction of qualified teachers available, districts are more likely to hire teachers who obtain emergency certification.

San Francisco Unified hired 435 teachers this year, up from the 338 hired last year.  However, more than 30 of the 3,400 teachers in the district hold emergency permits, meaning they are not fully credentialed in a particular subject.  Antioch Unified has 800 teachers, 60 of whom are not qualified for the position they hold.  Many of these teachers were placed in classes like special education, math, science and bilingual classes, historically the hardest to fill.

“We needed more teachers, and yet fewer teachers were available to us,” said Angie Sagastume, San Francisco Unified’s executive director of certificated recruitment and staffing. “I think it’s worrisome for all of us.”

A new mandate requires schools to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 24 students in grades K-3, further increasing the need for qualified teachers.

In the midst of all this, the highest-paid educators in the state took home six-figure incomes as a result of receiving severance payouts after being fired. California schools are showing a need for top administrators, yet those employees are demanding high salaries that districts cannot afford.

“Something is broken here,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “Some of these perks may be common in California, but it’s perplexing to the average taxpayer. … I think we are at a tipping point where there will be a backlash among taxpayers and parents over the way things are run in schools.”

San Francisco Unified is having trouble ensuring students come to school, too, as they recently pleaded with students to attend school on October 31 instead of attending the parade in honor of the World Series Winners the San Francisco Giants.  The last time they won, in 2012, around 4,200 students skipped school to attend.  This year, Halloween fell on the same day.

The school district superintendent and school board members took to social media outlets in addition to auto-dialing all 57,000 parents to make their message clear: it is a school day, and students should be in attendance.

In the end, it didn’t work, as multitudes of students attended the parade.