Tuesday’s incident on the Montgomery Campus, where students reported a substitute teacher’s unusual behavior and police found that teacher to be in possession of cannabis, leading to her being cited and released, led to some concerns by community members about the quality of substitute teachers in the DJUSD school system.
One source, themselves a substitute teacher, told the Vanguard that finding quality substitutes is a persistent problem in the district. One reason is the relatively low pay – the starting rate is just $102 a day for seven hours of work, or just under $15 an hour. Often, substitutes act as glorified babysitters rather than teachers.
Maria Clayton, the spokesperson from the district, defended the handling of the situation on Tuesday in a statement to the Vanguard.
She said, “The important thing to know is that in all circumstances if there is a concern about an individual by students or staff, it’s taken seriously, the kids are always the highest priority. In this particular case, the moment there was a concern it was investigated, the person was removed from teaching children, the police were called, they came, they handled it.”
In September, the district revised their substitute teacher daily rates. The scale is based on two factors – the days worked and the type of credential the substitute teacher holds. The district requires that the substitute have a credential, but that can be either a 30-day credential or a full credential. The full credential allows the substitute an additional $10 per day over the 30-day credential, whereas a DJUSD retiree gets $21 more than a person with a full credential.
For every 20 days worked in a school year, the pay is bumped up by $5 per day. At the maximum, someone on a 30-day credential can make $143 per day – but that requires that they work just about every day. The maximum for a full credential is $153 and the maximum for a DJUSD retiree is $173.
We heard some interesting stories of substitutes who did little more than sit up in front of the class and read books until the kids got too unruly. We were also told that there were short-lists of good substitutes, but many teachers go to work sick rather than risk having to call in a substitute.
The official requirements for a substitute are to submit an application and resume along with proof of a college degree, a CA teaching credential, CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) results and a letter of recommendation. They also have to submit to a background test, including fingerprints.
The new process, according to Ms. Clayton, is that they have to have an interview with the Director of Personnel Services, which includes a discussion about what it means to be a substitute in the DJUSD classroom. According to Maria Clayton, that process didn’t happen before September 2015 when the district changed its policies.
With regard to the background check – and this is true of any employee, “If there is a crime that is committed by an individual while they are on our substitute list, or in our employment, it is something that we hear about at the district.” So any new crime committed automatically gets flagged and sent to the district.
Maria Clayton told the Vanguard, “Any time we have a problem with an employee, and certainly that happens in any industry or any place, that is something that is taken care of, it’s investigated.” She said, “If it’s something egregious, substitutes are at-will employees and they can be taken off the list for a school or entire district.”
The question that the Vanguard had was whether these types of problems are a frequent occurrence. The answer to that questions appears to be no.
Maria Clayton told the Vanguard, “In employment, there are complaints about individuals that happen all the time – that’s what personnel is – so whether there is an egregious abuse of substitute teachers, I would say no. But if there are complaints, they’re absolutely taken care of. That’s why we have a personnel office.”
But the bigger complaint seems to be the overall lack of a quality substitute pool that the district can draw from. While heavily couched, the answer to that appears to be yes.
Maria Clayton told the Vanguard, “I think we have an employee dearth to begin with. It is very difficult to find teachers, it is even more difficult to find substitute teachers.”
“That said, we absolutely need people in our classrooms so we do the best that we can to advertise opportunities and recruit good teachers,” Ms. Clayton stated. “Our new substitute teacher daily rates are a response to our attempt to try to find ways we can find more qualified people as substitutes in our classroom.”
While she wouldn’t single out the issue of finding qualified substitute teachers as the sole problem, she did say, “The availability of teachers in general is something that our community needs to understand is difficult right now. We need to get quality people in the education field.” She added, “Substitutes are just as important.”
By comparison, Woodland starts at $150 for a full day if they have substitute training (otherwise it’s $130 for a full day – a DJUSD substitute would need to have worked 121 days before getting that rate). A long-term sub (more than 21 days) can get upwards of $200 per day.
Maria Clayton told the Vanguard that the substitute pay scale varies by school district. “I think we’ve done the best that we can to make it more attractive to people,” she said.
From the district’s perspective, Maria Clayton highlighted that this situation “was all handled very well.”
She said, “When you have an individual in the classroom that is causing some concern – whether it’s a full-time employee or whether it’s a substitute employee – what you want to have are people who are responsive.”
“You want your staff responsive,” she continued. “That’s what happened. The person was pulled out of the classroom. There was law enforcement that was called. They responded immediately. It was handled.” She added, “Kids were always safe at all times.”
“Parents were called and told what was going on, because you can’t have a police car in the school site without informing people of what was going on,” Ms. Clayton said.
“It was absolutely done well and the kids should be applauded,” she added.
But what if the teacher was in a younger grade classroom where the kids were not nearly as aware?
Maria Clayton said, “A school is a community, it’s not like an individual is a space by themselves.” In this case it was the students themselves who expressed concern, but “that doesn’t necessarily mean that another employee or parent or someone else wouldn’t have expressed concerns.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting