James Boyle, the Wire
Since the start of the 2015 school year, several districts in the Bucks County area have experienced difficulty filling a crucial spot on the day-to-day faculty, the substitute teacher. The Central Bucks School District’s fill rate was 82 percent, with districts in upper Bucks down as low as 71 percent.
The Neshaminy School District hosted a hiring event last week at Maple Point Middle School to find more candidates that could help schools with their staffing needs. According to the district Human Relations Director Theresa Hinterberger, more than 100 prospective substitutes came by to start the exhaustive paperwork process with Source4Teachers, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based firm that handles substitute staffing needs for most Bucks County school districts.
“It takes about two weeks to get all of the clearances completed,” said Hinterberger. “Our technology department set up a station at the hiring fair and got the ball rolling on the online applications.”
Paul Meehan, Neshaminy’s Director of Administration, says the school district has not felt the impact of the lack of substitute candidates as sharply as surrounding districts, relying on an 84 percent fill rate to keep the classrooms running smoothly. However, Meehan says, that still leaves 16 percent of positions unfilled.
“It’s still a hardship, reworking staff schedules to make sure all classrooms are accounted,” said Meehan. “The last-minute call outs are the biggest challenge, when teachers call between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Most substitutes have already committed to other jobs by then.”
The decline of substitute teachers is a consequence of a decrease in the amount of teacher certifications. Pennsylvania requires substitutes to be certified before taking on a long-term position.
Between the 2012-2013 school years and the 2014-2015 school years, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has seen a 62 percent drop in Pennsylvania residents seeking teacher certifications — from 16,361 to 6,215.
“A lot of local colleges that have been feeders for candidates have seen their teaching degree numbers fall,” said Meehan.
Moves have been made to overcome the certification requirement. The Pennsylvania Department of Education resurrected its emergency permit program, Hinterberger said. Anyone looking to fill day-to-day substitute positions can participate in a one-day orientation class that will grant an emergency permit to substitute teach on a daily basis. It is not eligible for long-term subbing.
State Representative Bernie O’Neill has attempted to address the substitute shortage, as well. In May 2015, the state house of representatives passed House Bill 1039, which would allow public schools, including school districts, area vocational-technical schools and intermediate units, to employ uncertified individuals as substitute teachers in the event certified substitute teachers are unavailable. Prior to hiring an uncertified substitute teacher, the public school entity must make a bona fide effort to employ a certified individual.
Under O’Neill’s legislation, the potential substitute teacher must hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution, be of good moral character, be a U.S. citizen, and he or she must satisfy the statutory criminal history and employment history background check requirements.
“My bill would permit a qualified individual, with knowledge of the curriculum, to teach the class for a few days,” O’Neill said. “This could be an excellent opportunity for children to learn about a subject they are studying from someone who currently works or has worked in that field. After meeting certain requirements, the school board ultimately has the authority to decide which candidates are best qualified to sub.”
The legislation is currently under consideration in the state senate.