Texas District Can’t Find Subs for 15% of Teacher Absences

Fort Worth is struggling to cover teacher absences after a recent district review found that one in six absences weren't filled.

District officials analyzed data for February and found that out of 10,318 teacher absences, 1,600 — 15.5 percent — went unfilled. In recent years, the district's unfilled substitute rate had been about 5 to 6 percent.

This comes in the wake of a change in requirements enacted in 2010 that substitutes must have a bachelor's degree. Even after allowing those who started substitute teaching before the new rule to be grandfathered into the old scheme to remain, this has led to major shortages in the supply of teachers within the district. Now Fort Worth officials are being forced to reevaluate the change and remove restrictions on teacher quality just to fill the vacancy.

Substitute teacher Jennifer Campbell provides a first-hand account of the problem, claiming that every day she receives 20 to 30 requests:

"And if I go online, there's usually about three pages of openings, when another district I sub at will have just one or a few postings," Campbell said. "I know there's a shortage because I'm always asked if I can cover for another class during an off period because that class didn't get a sub."

Other districts with less stringent requirements for substitute teachers are suffering fewer absences so it does indeed look to be a short-term solution to the problem.

"I think the thinking at that time was that we should have set in place high expectations for our kids and a reflection of that was that those subs were degreed professionals," Superintendent Walter Dansby said.

"But certainly, we need to look at it to the fullest and see all the other things we are doing — such as staff development — to address the substitute shortage."

A recent analysis of the problem showed that about 13% of the absences were due to staff development events. Officials say they are looking at ways to improve the scheduling of these so that children aren't so effected by combined class sizes and disrupted teaching. However, the most common absence days in Fort Worth are also Monday and Friday which indicates that there may also be some sick day abuse from teachers extending their weekends.

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