The substitute teacher shortage in Pennsylvania is prompting the Coatesville Area school board to consider raising the per diem rate it pays to substitutes or look for another staffing agency.
Interim Superintendent Rick Dunlap Jr. told the board Oct. 8 that on most school days, 6% of the district’s teaching staff is absent, but Insight, the service it uses to provide substitutes, is only able to fill about 52% of those vacancies.
Teachers are missing prep time to cover classes, and students sometimes miss special classes, Dunlap said. While recognizing staff may become stressed by issues such as classroom discipline, Dunlap also said he wants to find ways to encourage teachers to choose work over a day off, and make working in Coatesville classrooms appealing to substitutes.
The district pays substitutes $100 a day to start, lower than most surrounding school districts.
Dunlap — saying he is aiming for courteous, collaborative, effective meetings — broke with long-established protocol and walked down from the stage and through the Coatesville High School auditorium as he spoke. He also handed community members the microphone so they could ask questions and make comments.
During the interactive meeting, the community also began considering the issues of ideal class size, the cost of maintaining the Carl Benner building in Coatesville and a state tax abatement area in Caln Township to attract new businesses.
The community also examined district enrollment. As of Sept. 30 there were 5,499 students enrolled in Coatesville K-12 classrooms, but also 3,025 students enrolled in area charter schools.
Charles Linderman, interim business manager, said charter tuition will this year cost the district $53 million — $6 million more than budgeted. Hoping to attract students back from charters, the district this year offered free lunches and breakfasts, and free before- and after-school child care.
Resident Amelia Mills said more creative programs and proactively addressing behavior issues will help. Resident Deborah Thompson also urged staff not to mar the district with “ridiculous discussions, arguments and bashing” on Facebook.
“People are quietly watching those pages,” Thompson said.