Ames schools boosts substitute teachers' pay, hoping to alleviate staffing shortages
It's not clear whether increasing the pay of substitute teachers in Ames will actually help reduce the critical shortage being felt across the district and beyond, but the Ames school board opted to give it a try Monday night with a rate higher than what the school district proposed.
The board — with its newly elected members, who were also sworn in Monday night: Brett Becker, Amy Erica Smith and Kelly Winfrey — unanimously approved a daily rate of $135 for the district's substitute teachers — $4 more than what district officials had proposed and $8 more than the previous daily rate of $127.
The new rate puts Ames on par with the Dallas Center-Grimes, Southeast Polk and Winterset school districts, according to data presented by Kristin Johnson, the district's director of human resources.
Ames' previous rate had been below the $129 average of 20 districts that Johnson surveyed, according to her presentation Monday.
Ames continues to pay more than its immediate neighbors — Ballard, Gilbert, Nevada and Roland-Story — but less than Ankeny, West Des Moines, Carlisle and Waukee. Ankeny and West Des Moines pay $145 a day, according to Johnson's data.
Johnson also showed that the number of Ames teacher absences prompting the need for a substitute has been more since the start of this school year than it has been over the same timespan in the past three years — 1,368 absences in 2021, compared to 902 in 2020, 1,070 in 2019 and 1,074 in 2018.
The district's substitute fill rate has also dropped each year since 2018, reaching 67.4% this year, down from 94.6% in 2018.
Johnson said the district's shortage of substitute teachers has been severe — to the point that staff from the district's central office have had to fill in on several occasions, and building administrators cover classrooms on a weekly basis, if not multiple times a week.
Johnson did not have reasons for the increased absences of teachers, though she did not think it was being driven by COVID-19 quarantines or isolations this year — and could not say whether a pay raise for substitutes would help the situation, but she hoped the raise in pay would get more people interested in subbing.
She also said that the loosening of regulations by the state to try to increase the supply of subs has not done enough to reduce the need, even though the district has also implemented rewards for substitutes who return to work for the district 10 and 20 times.
Chris Stensland, the district's chief financial officer, and Paula Vincent, the interim superintendent, both said they were comfortable with the higher-than-proposed rate.
"Sometimes, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do," Stensland said, though she added that the district may have to adjust its budget later, depending on how many more subs come on board.
The new pay rate went into effect retroactively, as of Nov. 15.
Johnson said the new rate will not change the district's long-term substitute pay rate, which remains $175 a day for an assignment that lasts 10 days or more.
New board formed with same leadership
After being sworn in Monday, Becker, Smith and Winfrey were part of unanimous votes to retain the board's leadership in President Sabrina Shields-Cook and Vice President Michelle Lenkaitis.
Approximately 20 members of the public attended the meeting in-person, making for what was likely the largest crowd of the year so far in the district's board room.
Five parents and a student spoke during the meeting's public comment period in support of the district's school resource officers, with some sharing concerns about student fights, which have been an increasing problem at Ames High School this year, and alleged vandalism.
An Ames Police Department resource officer was also recently removed from the high school because of his allegedly repeated use of a racial slur against Black people in questioning a student about their use of the word.
The district requested the officer's removal, and Ames' city manager supported the request.
The district is continuing to use a study group to come up with a recommendation about the future use of school resource officers beyond the current school year. In the meantime, in the absence of a school resource officer at the high school, the district has added an additional assistant principal at the school and is reinstating campus monitors at the middle and high schools.
Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at email@example.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.