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School sub pool shallow in Jordan

Jordan School District is staring down the barrel of a substitute teacher shortage that has struck nearly every day since school started this fall and left 65 holes in its teaching force one day this month.

Schools are getting creative, including filling in with hall monitors and principals to make sure classrooms don't go unmanned, said Steve Dimond, secondary administrator who oversees district substitutes.

But what they really want are more people, with an associate's-degree equivalent and a squeaky-clean past, interested in working with kids when the teacher's out.

"I'd say (we're) concerned," Dimond said. "It's important to me to get the most qualified substitute in each classroom to provide the very best education we can."

Utah children will spend the equivalent of nearly one academic year with a substitute teacher before graduating from high school, according to Utah State University's Substitute Teaching Institute, which dispenses best-practices and training materials to school districts and substitutes nationwide.

Still, substitute pay in Utah, while within range of national averages, is low. The typical Utah sub earns about $45 each day in rural areas, and $55 to $65 in urban districts, according to last year's institute estimates. That's about $6.50 to $9 an hour. They also receive no benefits, which Jordan District has estimated would be a $750,000 proposition for its taxpayers alone.

Several districts in recent years reported the economic downturn helped boost their substitute-teaching ranks.

"Generally, in the past, we've been able to fulfill our needs," Dimond said. "I think the economy is doing a bit better at the moment, so many of the candidates who would be substitute teaching for us, they're finding employment elsewhere."

Neighboring Granite School District also is struggling to cover classrooms this year, said district associate director of human resources Lloyd Bybee. But it's mainly because teachers are out more for professional development. When subs are booked to cover them, there aren't enough to go around for teachers calling in sick.

"I guess in that sense, we have a shortage," Bybee said.

Neighboring Salt Lake City School District, however, isn't sharing their pain.

"Our pool is fairly strong, fairly heavy," spokesman Jason Olsen said. "Some may not always answer when they are called, but we have never had a hard time filling spots."

But Jordan has had a hard time. The district came up short on subs 50 out the 55 school days logged before Thanksgiving break, Dimond said. Most days, the district logged around 20 vacancies, but some were as low as one sub short; others, as many as 80.

"All classrooms are covered — we just have to cover (them) in a more creative way," Dimond said, be it with hall monitors, teachers during prep-time, principals, or PTA volunteers. "And it does cause somewhat of a disruption when you pull people out of their normal activities."

The district is seeking applicants through the Department of Workforce Services, its Web site (www.jordandistrict.org) and asking certified, year-round teachers to sub in their off time, Dimond said. The district requires subs, generally paid $62-$66 a day, to have an associate's degree or higher. Applicants are fingerprinted and their criminal backgrounds checked.

"It's important we have qualified folks in there," Dimond said.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com