Lack of substitutes vexes Milford School Board

MILFORD – The school board is asking administrators to look into ways to attract more substitute teachers, saying too many classes have no substitute when teachers are absent.

And when the board members looked over the data on substitute teachers at a recent meeting, they noticed what seems to be another problem: the rate of absenteeism among teachers.

Among the roughly 250 staff members who require substitutes, there were 3,466 absences from January through May.

Len Mannino suggested it’s a management problem.

“The numbers are alarming,” he said, noting that on Friday, May 19, 63 teachers were absent.

Chairman Ron Carvell asked Superintendent Robert Marquis to look into ways to attract more substitutes and also to research whether the number of teacher absences is in line with staff contracts and district policies.

According to data prepared by district Business Administrator Jennifer Burk, at $65 a day, Milford seems to be on the lower end of the pay scale for substitutes in southern New Hampshire districts. SAU 39 – Amherst and Mont Vernon schools – offers $75 a day. The highest rate, $87.50, is paid by Hampton.

But “even districts on the higher end have trouble filling substitute spots,” Burk said.

When there are unfilled absences, administrators are usually able to fill empty spots with paraprofessionals to make sure there is an adult in the classroom, she said, but, “It can be a big struggle for administrators.” Some districts are talking about enticements such as bonuses or a pay increase if a substitute works more than a certain number of days.

Days when the rate of unfilled classes is more than 30 percent must have a negative effect on the students, Carvell said.

Burk said this is probably the worse year for substitute teachers the district has ever experienced. She said there are other reasons for the shortage, including the low employment rate. The last time the pay rate was increased was about 20 years ago, she said.

“I go through the building, and they are working harder than $10 an hour,” Carvell said.

Several years ago, the School Board declined a request to raise the pay, saying the district had no trouble attracting substitute teachers.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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