Shawnee Mission move to outsource substitute services raises concerns about teacher qualifications, tech training

Shawnee Mission schools will have substitutes scheduled by an outsourced company starting next year.
Shawnee Mission schools will have substitutes scheduled by an outsourced company starting next year.

Superintendent Jim Hinson may be departing, but a major change to the way substitute teacher scheduling and placement works in the Shawnee Mission School District that comes under his recommendation will be in place for at least the next three years.

At its regular meeting last week, the board of education voted 7-0 to approve a three-year contract with Kelly Education Staffing Services to take over the district’s substitute operations. Kelly’s work will replace the duties of two in-house staff members who currently direct substitute operations.

At an annual cost of $3,370,000, the move to outsource the functions to Kelly will save the district around $3,000 per year.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Doug Sumner told the board that the move to outsource the substitute operations comes in response to persistent issues keeping a pool of qualified substitutes full enough to meet the district’s needs.

“What we find is, at a growing rate, we are unable to find the quantity of subs we need,” Sumner told the school board.

But the shift toward a mid-term agreement with a company taking over such a significant function from the district drew scrutiny from one board member. Brad Stratton, who was elected to his at-large seat in 2015, said he was concerned with signing a three-year deal with an organization that had no track record with the district. Sumner responded that the cost savings from entering a three-year deal versus a one-year deal led his team to make the conclusion that the three-year deal was more appropriate. He also noted that Kelly has a long history in the industry, and has the capacity to handle operations for a district of Shawnee Mission’s size. Stratton ultimately voted in favor of the measure, but expressed reservations.

“I did come into this meeting not sure,” he said. “I’m not real comfortable with a three year contract…I think it’ll be incumbent on all of us to watch that each year.”

The move has also drawn criticism from some current and former district employees, who tell the Shawnee Mission Post they worry that outsourcing the operations will lead to more inexperienced substitutes in the classroom. Current state law directs districts to attempt to schedule all of the people in their substitute pool with teachers licenses or substitute licenses before turning to emergency substitutes. To get an emergency substitute license, the only requirement is that you have 60 semester credit hours from a regionally accredited college or university, meaning current college students could qualify. Substitutes also have to pass an annual background check.

At the meeting last week, Sumner said that as part of an effort to address the substitute shortage in recent years, the district had already changed its internal protocols for placing emergency subs.

“One of our early responses to this issue a year ago was to modify the criteria for subbing in the district,” he said. “And today, and for the last year, emergency sub licenses have been sufficient and accepted. And I would tell you while there is great value in having a full teacher license some very exceptional substitutes operate every day in our classroom with emergency sub and sub licenses.”

There is also concern among some current district teachers that substitutes are not adequately prepared to manage the use of the Apple devices that now serve as the focal point of many lesson plans in the district.

Sumner acknowledged that issue to the board.

“I’m going to be very honest and let you know that this is an area we continue to struggle with,” he said. “We are looking for a solution that will make technology easier to place in the hands of our substitutes.”

Sumner stressed to the the move was driven by pressures that had nothing to do with the performance of the district’s current internal staffers.

“This is not a quality issue with them, either,” he said. “We have two people that work their tail off to do this job. And they’ve done everything we have asked to the best of their ability to make this work. It is simply a size issue.”

The contract does provide the district with a 60-day exit clause should it not be satisfied with Kelly’s service.

Sumner’s team’s memo giving an over view for the rationale to outsource the function can be found here.