PARIS — When Dave McVety walked into a Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Latin classroom last year, armed with a master’s degree in business administration, a bachelor degree in American History but no teaching experience in the subject, he was at the mercy of his students.
McVety was a substitute teacher in a classroom that he said was “Greek” to him for a paycheck of about $7 an hour.
“It’s difficult,” said McVety, who was appointed this summer to the SAD 17 Board of Directors as one of two representatives from Otisfield. “They (the school district) were only paying $60 a day to someone with a master’s degree. That’s about $7 an hour, which is ridiculous.”
McVety and his fellow 21 members of the Board of Directors took action at their Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting to remedy the financial issue they believe hinders the district’s ability to hire well-qualified substitutes.
Directors unanimously approved the Personnel Committee’s recommendation to adjust substitute teacher pay rates in the district from the current low of $55 to $65 a day to $70 a day. Those subs who hold teacher certifications will be paid a daily rate of $80.
The daily sub rate had not changed since 2000.
With scores of area school districts competing for the same substitute pool, the district needed to be financially competitive, said Assistant Superintendent Patrick’s Hartnett, who serves as the district administrator on the Personnel Committee.
In addition to the daily rate, the directors unanimously set the long-term substitute rate (60 days or fewer) at $150. The sub must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The long-term, substitute rate for more than 60 days is the base rate of the teacher scale per diem. That position requires the sub to be certified.
The new daily rates were financed by reducing the long-term rates slightly.
The recommendation to increase the daily rates was based on several factors including regional competitive averages and the demonstrated difficulty in hiring daily substitutes, Hartnett said.
Nearby SAD 44 in Bethel, for example, pays its district-wide uncertified subs $70 a day. Those with teaching certification are paid a daily are of $80.
SAD 72, which includes Fryeburg, Brownfield, Denmark, Lovell, Stoneham, Stow and Sweden, receives $75 per day for teacher and ed tech subbing. That school district includes kindergarten through grade eight students only.
“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have to pull an ed tech (from the classroom) to sub,” Hartnett told the directors of the struggle to fill teacher vacancies.
Despite having 135 people currently on the district’s active sub list, Hartnett said a common challenge is that many substitutes are only able or willing to work on certain days or at certain schools. And with teacher absences reaching a high of 25 to 30 on any day in the winter, it’s a tough job securing the right sub to fill in.
“So on any given day, we could be limited by school location or the day of the week in securing an adequate substitute teacher,” he said. “Our two primary sub callers, Kathy Bracken and Alta Pierce, do a tremendous job contacting and coordinating our substitute coverage on our 11 campuses.”
The minimum qualifications to sub in the SAD 17 school district is a high school diploma and submitting to the criminal history record check and fingerprinting by the Maine Department of Education.
The district’s substitute list far exceeds those expectations.
According to Hartnett, of the 135 people on the district’s active substitute list, 80 have completed at least two years of college, 71 have an associate’s degree or higher, including 42 with a bachelor’s degree, six have a master’s degree and 13 are fully certified teachers.
Despite the impressive roster, finding the right person to sub in a particularly challenging class is not always easy when it comes to filling certain spots.
“There are times that we do have difficulty finding a substitute that has the qualifications, experience, and confidence to be effective in certain classes,” Hartnett said. “I would say that our more advanced math and science classes, world languages, and some special education classes where students require specialized behavioral or cognitive support are a challenge to fill.”
The challenge is also increased at times by the substitutes’ individual preferences and skill sets, Hartnett said.
“It varies from person to person; where some substitutes prefer to only be in music or art classes but never literature, others say yes to physical education or chemistry but not kindergarten. We do our best to match skill sets and preference with our needs as a district,” he said.
There is a perception among some that substituting is simply babysitting a classroom of students. Not so, say directors, teachers and administrators.
“It isn’t open season when you substitute,” said Director Elizabeth Swift of Hebron. “It’s up to the kids to carry forward even when the sub is not proficient. … It’s not a job that everyone wants to do, but it can be very well managed by the kids.”
Some directors say the responsibility lies with the absent teacher to ensure there are adequate lesson plans available for a sub on any given day.
“I think it comes down to lesson plans,” said Director Bob Jewell of Paris. “If teachers leave good lesson plans, anyone with a high school education should be able to teach that class. Without good lesson plans, he or she is at the mercy of the kids.”
McVety said much has changed since he graduated from high school in 1973. Back then, as now, there were those students who wanted to take advantage of the situation when a substitute entered the room, but it was more often in good fun.
Today, he said, there seems to be less integrity, less respect (for subs), he said.
Still, he has no regrets about subbing and sees his experience as rewarding to both himself and the students.
“It was a great experience,” McVety said.
And his Latin class? No problem, he said, thanks to the teacher who left easy-to-follow lesson plans.
“Kids did learn something despite my ignorance,” he told his fellow directors, chuckling.
What does it take to be a SAD 17 sub?
- Minimum qualifications are a high school diploma and submitting to the criminal history record check and fingerprinting by the Maine Department of Education. The DOE will issue apermanent CHRC authorization certificate.
- SAD 17 requires participation in a free, two-hour substitute training/orientation class. The next class is Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m., at the Central Office on Route 26 in Paris. Participants must advance register by calling Diane at the SAD 17 superintendent’s office at 207-743-8972. The next session is set for Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m.