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Long Island school districts on the lookout for substitute teachers

To remedy the problem, school districts are partnering with universities to tap into recent graduates, holding job fairs and increasing pay for substitutes.

Substitute teacher James Bulva teaches an English classroom

Substitute teacher James Bulva teaches an English classroom at Mineola High School on Jan. 15. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Long Island school districts face a pressing need for substitute teachers, and those doing the hiring blame a teacher shortage, fewer young people going into the profession, low unemployment and competition from city schools for the shallow pool of applicants.

District administrators, as part of their recruitment efforts, are partnering with universities to tap into recent graduates, holding job fairs and increasing pay for substitutes.

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of the Elwood School District and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said the shortage has been a long-term challenge. The substitute position used to be viewed as a “foot in the door” for aspiring teachers, but with fewer people seeking teaching degrees, the shortage of job candidates has worsened, he said.

"This is something we have been struggling with for the last several years," Bossert said.

In addition, many schools that have seen declining enrollment are not hiring and do not anticipate hiring — dissuading applicants who may have worked as a substitute in the district with the hope it would lead to a job.

According to the New York State United Teachers, enrollment in teacher education programs dropped roughly 47 percent to just over 41,000 students statewide from 2009-10 to 2015-16. It also has not helped school recruiters that the economy has been strong — 3.1 percent unemployment rate on Long Island in December — and graduates are seeing other career opportunities.

But there have been some recruiting success stories.

The Mineola school district partnered with Adelphi University to boost its teaching ranks. Under a residency program, an education major — usually in the fifth year and looking to earn a master’s degree — is committed to the Mineola district for the year. The student teaches for four days and substitutes the fifth day. The student is under the supervision of school district staff and Adelphi professors.

“We treat them just like our teachers,” Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler said.

Jackie Jahelka, 23, a recent Adelphi graduate, is a permanent substitute at Jackson Avenue Elementary School in Mineola. Jahelka, who earned her master's in May, was placed at Jackson Avenue through the residency program.

"I come from a long line of teachers, and I always wanted to be a teacher. It is just natural for me to go into it," she said. "Coming from student teaching in the district and being familiar with the faces of the staff and the children, I am hoping that eventually might lead to something else — an opportunity."

The substitute shortage also extends to school nurses, teacher aides and other paraprofessionals, Bossert said, adding that there are things the state can do, such as easing restrictions on subs. Last year, the state education commissioner allowed districts to apply for a waiver to have an uncertified sub for a period of time until a certified one could be found, he said. That waiver has not been provided this year, Bossert noted.

Bossert said he is working with the State Education Department to determine qualifications for substitutes. “The concern is making sure you have a qualified person in a classroom with students,” he said.

The Education Department does not offer a certificate specifically for substitute teaching, and there are rules governing employment. For example, a sub without a certificate who is not a student enrolled in a college program working toward certification may be employed by a district, but is "limited to 40 days in a given school district in a school year," according to the department.

The typical pay range for a substitute on Long Island is $90 to $130 a day, according to educators. Permanent subs are usually paid more than daily, or "per-diem," subs. For full-time, entry-level teaching positions on the Island, the annual pay range is $55,000 to $60,000, according to Adelphi's College of Education and Sports Science.

In Elwood, which enrolls 2,116 students, Bossert said there are unfilled substitute positions in each of the district's four buildings. Pay rates range from $100 per day for a daily sub to $120 per day for a permanent.

The William Floyd district in Suffolk County has 43 permanent substitutes who come in daily and are guaranteed work in the 8,700-student district. Permanent subs are used to cover extended leaves and are also used in day-to-day coverage. In addition, the district also hires daily subs; in a recent week, they needed 38 per-diem subs.

Recently, the William Floyd district posted a substitute opening and received only eight replies, said Estelle Albertina, an administrative aide in human resources. When she started in the district about seven years ago, she would have received about 100 responses.

“We always have more openings than we have per-diem subs, and we are always looking,” she said.

The district has raised its daily pay rate slightly in recent years to $100 per day, $110 for per-diem after 15 days of service, and $125 per day for a permanent sub, said Janet Gilmor, the assistant superintendent for human resources. The district also has expanded its recruitment efforts.

"We have tried a few things. In the past, we had a future teacher academy, had about 20 to 30 high school students come in, and we exposed them to the field of education," Gilmor said. The district wants certified subs, but, "If substitutes continue to run very short, it [hiring noncertified subs] is something we might have to reconsider," she added.

Nagler, who also is president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, said he budgeted 25 permanent substitutes but was only able to hire only 11 this year. The district enrolls about 2,900 students in grades K-12.

He said educators can get creative if not enough substitutes are found.

“At the high school, it is a little easier — you can do study halls or larger preps," Nagler said. "For the younger ones — you might … have somebody else [another teacher] cover the class.”

James Bulva, 25, is an alumni of the Mineola district and recently graduated with his master's degree from Adelphi. He has been working as a permanent sub in the district and is hoping for a full-time job.

"As a P.E. teacher, it is not easy to get a job," he said. "This could be a unique opportunity to get in this way as a sub."

Edward Escobar, Mineola's assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district has experienced a wave of retirements. But he has to compete with other districts for subs. New York City's Department of Education, as an example, has increased salaries for substitutes, he said. According to the NYC Department of Education website, per-diem subs are paid $185.05 per day.

Another recruitment effort under consideration involves Nassau BOCES, which wants to create a "minor league" service of potential substitute teachers, Superintendent Robert R. Dillon said. BOCES officials have met with the Mineola and Oceanside districts to discuss creating a substitute residency program. If approved, all districts in Nassau could participate.

The program would allow student teachers from local colleges and universities to substitute teach in any district that participates in the service. Going through BOCES could make the expense of hiring subs eligible to be reimbursed for state aid, he said.

“Based on my anecdotal experience, on any given day there is a need for a minimum of 1,000 substitute teachers throughout Nassau County,” Dillon said.

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