ACT 10 consequences felt through sub shortage

ACT 10 consequences felt through sub shortage

An ongoing problem regarding a shortage in substitute teachers has turned into an epidemic this year for the Oshkosh Area School District (OASD). So far this year, the district has lost one third of its substitutes. Due to the drop in numbers, the school district faces problems with finding replacements for absent teachers. Substitute coordinator, Jenni Johnson, has witnessed the struggle caused by the shortage first hand through her job.

“We are at almost 200 and would like to be at 300,” she said.

Even hitting that threshold wouldn’t solve many of the issues as people on the substitute list often times have specific considerations that limit efficiency.

“300 sounds like a big number, but we have a large staff,” she said. “Subs might only want one school or one subject, or one month out of the year, so if that sounds like a big number it really isn’t.”

The reasons for a lessened number of substitutes as a whole are unclear, but various factors play into the overall problem. Principal Erin Kohl connects the dots between the substitute shortages today to the uproar that occurred just five years ago.

“Right now there are just not a lot of people going into the field of education,” she said. “When Act 10 was put into place a few years back, it created a hostile environment for teachers. The teaching profession seems to be not valued as highly as it used to be, all over the country, which caused less people to want to go into this profession.”

Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, was passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature in 2011 after being proposed by Governor Scott Walker. It was passed to prevent a predicted almost four billion dollar loss in the school systems.

“Since this act, benefits have been depleted, pay has stayed stagnant and there is not a lot of motivation for people to go into the profession,” Kohl said.

The minimal amount of substitutes for the entire district has led to already existing staff to have to fill in for their missing cohorts, ironically as a budget-saving method facilitated by Act 10.

“Our middle school staff and our high school staff have to do eight hours of internal subbing without compensation,” Johnson said.

Likewise, Kohl understands the difficulties teachers face when having to fill in for their peers.

“When we are short subs we have to go out and ask our teachers to give up their prep hours for those who are gone,” she said. “At the elementary schools, principals and counselors have given up entire days to fill in for absent teachers solely because there are not enough subs.”

World Cultures teacher Matthew Mauk interprets the influence of the shortage that he has seen first hand at West. Without many substitutes available in the district, the options are limited.

“If there are fewer people available, then that may affect the quality of the people that are serving as substitute teachers,” he said.

Without a variety of qualified substitute teachers accessible, students’ learning will begin to be affected greatly.

“I think that if you have people that are not necessarily as qualified as others,” he said, “it could eventually affect the educational quality that the students are receiving within classrooms.”

Mauk believes that the main cause of the shortage is more of a statewide issue rather a district issue, meaning more than just the Oshkosh area is affected by it.

“I think that really in order to solve the problem, more is going to have to be done at the state level rather than at the district level,” he said.

The state has adjusted the various parts of the process for substitutes to make it easier and more welcoming to gain interest and more candidates.

“We have simplified the application to make it less cumbersome for our applicants,” Johnson said. “Mr. Cernohous is a retired principal from West doing job fairs and heavy duty recruiting at the university so we can get graduate students or people working on an education degree to sub if they have a day off.”

Getting the word out has shown some change in the interest numbers, but not as much as Johnson, and plenty of others, would like. Mauk believes that the shortages of substitutes has been caused by the previous substitutes getting permanent teaching jobs due to the shortage of teachers.

“It seems that the shortages have happened due to some of the decisions at the state level which caused fewer people to enter the teaching profession,” he said. “A lot of the people that did serve as substitutes in the past have gotten teaching jobs because of the teacher shortage.”

However, when hiring teachers in the district, Executive Assistant Nicole Labor and Employment Coordinator Shannon Mraz agreed that similar substitute shortages throughout the state of Wisconsin have affected the number of candidates applying for permanent teaching positions.

“We have seen, in addition to a substitute shortage, a teacher shortage as well,” Labor said. “Various subject areas and schools in general are saturated and have very few applicants, which limits the possible number of future teachers in our district.”

Mraz agreed that the amount of applications have decreased in recent years, but the process of hiring new employees has remained the same.

“Application numbers have gone down about fifty percent within the past couple of years,” she said.

Although the interest in substituting and teaching has decreased, the process of hiring has remained primarily the same.

“If we only get 50, we still take all 50 into consideration and if there are 100, we take all 100 into consideration.”

Although the shortages make the process of finding admirable substitutes a more difficult task, Kohl realistically assessed  the overall effect of any substitute in the classroom.

“The best person to be in the classroom is the original teacher, but when we have to fill something in a pinch, it is hard to find the best fit,” she said.

Kohl continues to be optimistic for the future, but as of now she faces the facts and does her best to assist her co-workers.

“Regardless, if there is a shortage throughout the state, then there will most likely be a shortage in any district as well and ours is no exception,” she said. “The missing numbers in substitutes is a bigger issue that affects not only our district, but the education system as a nation.”

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