By Meghan Bobrowsky and Albert Hu,
This news feature is the third in a series of articles that looks into the school district’s use of funds. We try to answer the question: Is this the best use of taxpayer money? In this edition, we investigate substitute teacher daily rates and the current substitute shortage.
According to the most up-to-date documents on respective district websites, the Davis Joint Unified School District pays its day-to-day substitute teachers up to 18 percent less than the average salary of neighboring school districts such as Woodland, Vacaville and Natomas.
These competing districts make attracting and maintaining a sufficient number of substitutes difficult for DJUSD, leading to a recent substitute shortage.
“When the economy was bad, we had lots of substitutes. We rarely had a day where the jobs went unfilled,”said Matt Best, DJUSD Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services.
“Since the economy has turned around, almost all those substitutes have jobs now. Our substitute pool is about the same size, but we’re competing with all the other districts to a greater degree.”
According to Best, DJUSD generally has five or less unfilled substitute positions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, which escalates to ten vacant substitute positions on Mondays and Fridays.
This lack of substitutes forces teachers, administrators and librarians to fill in the gap.
“I would say probably 95 percent of the time, one-hour [substitute positions] get filled by [teachers] because usually it’s like ‘I gotta go to the doctor or I gotta pick up my kid,’ and you’ll talk to your colleague,” Best said.
This creates a stressful dilemma for teachers.
“There are times when you have to go photocopy something or you have a student that’s requesting something and you have to get it done. So when you’re asked to sub in another class, it can make a teacher’s life more stressful because you want to help out a colleague, but then you’re sacrificing what you need to do,” social studies teacher Fern O’Brien said. “We do it with a smile on our face when necessary, but there’s really a hidden cost there that we end up paying for in our own stress load.”
DJUSD pays its substitutes based on how many days they have worked in the district for the current school year―incentivizing loyalty and commitment to Davis.
After 20 days at schools in DJUSD, substitutes receive a $5 pay raise. Compensation grows by $5 again after 40 days and 80 days of work. An additional $7 hike in the daily raise occurs after 100 days, though Best said that few substitutes reach this step on the pay schedule.
However, even with DJUSD’s salary based on days worked in the school year, a substitute would need to work at least 101 days just to match the Woodland Joint Unified School District’s or Vacaville Unified School District’s flat rate of $130 per day.
According to Best, only three substitutes even come close to working every day in the district―most do it part time. This means that by the time DJUSD substitutes finally earn the same amount as substitutes in other districts, the school year (184 days) would already be close to over―causing a substitute’s daily rate to reset.
As a result, Richard Bruce, a dedicated DJUSD substitute with over 20 years of experience, states that substitutes with financial difficulties prefer to sub in other districts for the higher pay and for the neighborhoods with cheaper rent.
However, Best affirms that there is a “non-monetary value” to subbing at Davis High, due to the more friendly and supportive community in addition to a potential opportunity for future employment as a teacher.
Bruce agrees that Davis is “a good place to start subbing […] because the students are easier to handle.” He believes this is a strong incentive for new substitutes to begin their career in Davis. However, according to Bruce, once these new substitutes gather enough experience from Davis, they will move to another district for the higher pay, making DJUSD the district that “train[s] everyone else’s employees.”
Substitute teachers at Davis High must have a 30 day subbing credential, a teaching credential or be a DJUSD retiree.
The most common substitutes are those with a 30 day credential, which requires a Bachelor’s Degree, passing of the California Basic Educational Skills Test and clean fingerprints, Best said.
Districts stagger their rates of pay for substitutes based on credentials and legacy. In Davis, substitutes with a full teaching credential receive about $10 more per day than substitutes with a 30 day credential. DJUSD retirees are also allotted their own increased daily rate.
However, across the board, neighboring school districts provide a higher rate of pay―regardless of credentials.
The starting rate per day for 30 day credentialed substitutes in Davis is a meager $104; compared to $130 for Woodland and Vacaville, and $120 for Natomas. In Davis, this rate increases to $114 for fully credentialed substitutes; while in Woodland and Vacaville, the pay rises to a flat $150 and $140, respectively.
In Davis, retired DJUSD teachers start with a salary of $136, while in Natomas, retired teachers can earn an extra $25 a day, equating to $145. For retirees in Woodland and Vacaville, their rate rises to $170 and $160, respectively.
Looking forward, Best explains DJUSD’s current plan to make its substitute rate more competitive with neighboring districts.
“[The daily] rate has gone up 2 percent each year just like the [pay for full-time] employees. It didn’t before. We basically got authorization from the board to say if employees get a raise, the sub rates go up also. That was [in] 2014.”
However, according to CNN Money, this 2 percent raise is below the average 3 percent raise that most employees across America receive per year. In fact, it is only just high enough to keep up with America’s inflation rate, which is currently about 1.6 percent, according to U.S. Inflation Calculator.
The HUB was not able to locate the previous rates of pay for substitutes in neighboring districts, and thus was not able to determine if substitutes in other districts experience a yearly pay increase as well.
Is this the best use of taxpayer money? The HUB says:
Yes―properly compensating substitute teachers is essential in making sure schools run as smoothly as possible without placing additional burdens on teachers or other staff. The district should allocate more funds to substitute pay to be more competitive with other districts in order to ensure all substitute positions are filled.