Shawnee Mission boosts substitute pay after schools struggled to cover teacher absences last year

A teacher at the front of the classroom

Shawnee Mission and Kelly Education Services, its contracted substitute teacher provider, will boost substitute teacher pay by $5 a day for the 2022-23 school year. Above, a classroom at SM South High School. File photo.

The Shawnee Mission school board this week unanimously approved an increase in substitute teacher pay for the upcoming school year, a move aimed at counteracting the district’s increasing struggles at finding enough classroom subs.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded teacher shortage issues in SMSD and districts nationwide and led to a shrinking substitute pool, especially last year.

  • In the 2021-22 school year, SMSD reported an 84% substitute fill rate, the lowest the district has recorded in the past four years.
  • A shortage of subs puts additional strain on school staff members, who must step in to fill their colleagues’ vacancies if subs are not found.
  • The problem became particularly acute at the start of the winter semester in January as schools returned to session amid the Omicron surge, when more than 140 staff members were out at one time.

What’s new: The pay increase allots an additional $5 to daily and long-term sub pay, bringing those numbers to $140 and $180, respectively.

  • This puts Shawnee Mission’s daily and long-term sub rate pay above the rates currently paid by the five other Johnson County public school districts, according to SMSD.
  • Shawnee Mission will also have a dedicated account manager at Kelly Education Services — the company that supplies the district with substitute teachers — who will be onsite at district offices to help improve the district’s sub fill rate this year.
  • Additionally, Kelly guaranteed the district a 90% teacher fill rate in the 2022-23 contract.
  • If that guarantee is not met, Kelly will reduce the markup — which was already reduced for this school year, offsetting the sub pay rate increase — for teacher positions by a half percent for the following semester, according to a district presentation.

What they’re saying: “Over the last couple years, they’ve been — I think many educators would agree — some of the most difficult times we’ve seen, ” said Keith Elliot, senior director of client services at Kelly Education Services. “There are less teachers going into the field right now, we know that there is a teacher shortage to begin with, you top that off with a pandemic and Kelly saw fill rates that dropped on average with our clients about 15% to 20% last year.”

By the numbers: The substitute fill rate has steadily declined from the 2018-19 school year, when it was 99.1%, according to the district, meaning nearly all classroom openings were able to be filled.

  • The fill rate for the 2020-21 school year, the first full year with COVID-19, was 94%. The year before that, it was 97%.
  • Overall, the district reported nearly 30,000 total staff absences during the 2021-22 school year, including librarians and nurses. Of those, roughly 25,000 absences were filled by subs.

By school: All of the district’s middle and high schools made up the top 10 schools that saw the most teacher absences last year, according to the district, and those 10 schools made up the about 40% of all teacher absences districtwide

  • Jeremy Higgins, the district’s director of secondary human resources, told the board of education at its Monday meeting that secondary schools are generally expected to have higher teacher absenteeism rates because of the larger staff size.
  • In addition to the secondary schools, Apache Innovative, Christa McAuliffe, Brookridge, Nieman, Pawnee, Broken Arrow, Comanche, Rosehill, Highlands and Rising Star elementary schools rounded out the top 20 schools for total teacher absences.
  • The full board presentation can be found below.
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