Poudre School District has struggled with staffing shortages throughout the year, like many school districts and industries nationwide. From custodial staff to long-term substitutes, job postings typically filled in a matter of months have been open for more than a year.
And despite Superintendent Brian Kingsley telling the board of education on Nov. 9 that the district was doing everything it could to keep schools from closing like others across the state have, PSD announced an extended Thanksgiving break just three days later.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure (closing schools) is not an option, but it’s dangerously close,” he told the board and cabinet. But the district had so many teachers expected to be absent in the days leading up to Thanksgiving — and so few substitutes able to get in front of students — that it gave teachers and students the entire week off.
This year there are just 474 in the pool, though Executive Director of Human Resources Brett Larsen said the number of active substitutes is closer to 280 because the total includes 79 in-building substitutes and 114 people who have not worked or worked just one day this year.
Jennifer Needham, the district’s director of human resources, said the shortage is most likely because of the general labor shortage in the community and people being wary of returning to work in schools in the age of COVID-19.
“It’s just different to be in a classroom with kids all day long when COVID is happening, it’s definitely different,” she said.
Needham said there isn’t a set number of openings for substitutes, but with a pool of more than 900 in past years, they’re welcoming as many applicants as possible.
Similar to how being down a paraprofessional or a teacher would impact a school’s staff, the shortage of substitutes has led to other teachers or administrative staff filling in for an absent teacher in lieu of a sub while still doing their own role.
“These particular vacancies are requiring other staff members to do sometimes two different jobs,” Kingsley told the school board. “They’re having to be a principal and sub, they’re having to be a teacher and cover a class, and all of those things impact our ability.”
On an average day, PSD needs between 150 and 300 substitute teachers, Needham said.
Teachers who fill in for empty classrooms during their planning period are eligible to receive hourly pay of $35 for the additional work, Needham said, though classified and administrative staff who step up do not receive additional pay.
Joni Baker, president of the Association of Classified Employees that represents substitute teachers, among other classified staff, said she’s had a number of paraprofessionals who have emergency substitute licenses work as a substitute rather than a paraprofessional for days at a time.
“There’s a difference between being an emergency sub and asked to do it every once in a while and being an emergency sub and being asked almost every day,” she said, praising the employees who have filled empty roles this year.