The St. Peter School District, like any other, is feeling the impacts of COVID-19 this school year, and one of the less direct side effects has been the difficulty in covering teacher absences.
Substitutes are in short supply this year, with many of the regular subs in a high risk category for COVID and some of them already hired as full-time teachers. Knowing there is a genuine possibility that several staff members may need to stop working all at once during the pandemic, St. Peter administrators and the School Board agreed on some contingency actions.
The most notable action was a vote from the School Board to raise the district’s pay for substitutes from $130 per day to $175 per day (or from $65 per half day to $87.50 per half day). The board also agreed to raise the substitute paraprofessional rate from $11.60 per hour to $12.75 per hour.
“We’ve had a challenging time finding substitutes in the COVID pandemic environment,” St. Peter Superintendent Bill Gronseth said. “We’ve also seen other districts in the region increasing their substitute rates, so we want to stay competitive with our rates, and we also want to encourage people to make a trip to St. Peter to sub for us if they’re living outside of the city.”
School Board Chair Ben Leonard noted that the increase for subs will be paid with federal CARES Act dollars. School Board member Jon Carlson explained why he think it’s a worthy investment with those special pandemic-related dollars.
“I think staffing has been a problem, just numbers wise, and we’re one episode away from having a bunch of teachers be out, so I think this is very timely and very important,” he said.
According to Gronseth, the pool of subs the district can draw from is much slimmer this year than the usual year.
“A number of our substitute teachers we normally use are former and retired teachers, and understandable with COVID-19, they’ve been hesitant to work. as they might be in a high risk category,” Gronseth said. “And with the number of teachers who have retired or decided not to work, not just in St. Peter but statewide, a lot of the other regular substitutes have been hired as full-time instructors and teachers. So the pool of usual subs is just depleted.”
The district intends to market their need for substitutes, reaching out to local graduate students and sharing through social media and other messaging. Gronseth noted that one doesn’t need a degree in education to qualify; a four-year degree in any subject is enough for a short-term call teaching license in the state of Minnesota.
“We know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, but there are a lot of people who have considered going into teaching, and it’s the perfect opportunity to try it out,” Gronseth said.
The district has not yet had to cancel any classes, but that’s a possibility if the sub pool doesn’t increase quickly.
One reason no classes have been canceled is because teachers are covering for one another. In order to fairly compensate teachers doing that, the School Board passed a memorandum of understanding, stating that teachers who cover other classrooms will be compensated for the loss of their own preparation time and/or for taking on additional duties. The agreement was created in collaboration with the St. Peter Education Association.
A third item passed by the School Board was a proration of Families First sick leave. The district is asking that teachers, when able, continue working and teach from home when in quarantine or taking care of a sick family member this school year. If the teachers do that, the sick leave time they would normally use can be prorated as compensation.
All three items the School Board passed go into immediate effect.