Texas teachers face increased pressure during pandemic due to substitute shortage


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Like many school districts in the state of Texas, the Austin Independent School District admits it is facing a substitute teacher shortage.

Earlier this week, parents of students at Austin High School said they were informed their kids would need to work in the cafeteria, since a sub could not be located to teach the campus.

Austin ISD, along with many school districts, is challenged by a smaller than usual substitute teacher pool to support our campuses. We are actively working on solutions to recruit and retain substitute teachers.

Austin Independent School District

This issue is not unique to AISD. Last month, KXAN spoke to officials with the Hays Consolidated Independent School District, who said they were 400 subs short of its typical yearly count.

Teachers that KXAN’s education reporter Alex Caprariello spoke to shared this is impacting their daily lives. Some said they were afraid to call out or take mental health days, anxious their workload will be placed on the shoulders of their coworkers.

It’s a sentiment that Education Austin President Ken Zarafis said is widespread.

“We hear that a lot, the ‘I don’t want my colleagues to have an extra burden,'” Zarafis said. “[But] when you are sick, you are sick. When you have to be out, you have to be out!”

AISD mom of two, Michelle Rutan, shared she also sees the strain this has on teachers.

When a Brentwood Elementary School teacher alerted the Rutan family that a sub would teach their daughter’s class, the teacher still signed on to the virtual class to make sure the kids were on track with their sub.

“How hard can you push one person before they can’t do it anymore?” Rutan questioned. “I’m worried the education system is not going to make it through this. We don’t have teachers, there are no subs, our principal is out. We can’t expect everyone to work 24 hours a day.”

The Texas State Teachers Association says the sub pool for districts statewide is mostly made up of older, retired teachers who might be at higher risk of health complications. Vice President of the TSTA, Linda Estrada, said COVID-19 has heightened the typical shortage.

“In normal times, you would have substitutes calling in and saying, ‘I want this job, I want this job!’ But at this point, they are holding back, just like the teachers are,” Estrada said. “Many substitutes, like regular teachers, don’t feel comfortable going to school for in-person instruction.”

AISD officials say they are working on solutions to recruit and retain subs. This comes after the district cut the majority of its subs after all campuses were shut down in the spring due to COVID-19. Only long-term and permanent substitutes, those who worked more than 100 days in the school year and those deemed essential by a principal were asked to stay on.

Right now, teachers or TAs who take on extra work to cover for their colleagues are being compensated for it thanks to an agreement filed last year, Zarafis said.

Leander ISD searching for solutions

The idea of hiring a third-party vendor to provide substitute teachers came up at the Leander Independent School District’s board meeting Thursday night.

The board was told the vendor could do things the district can’t, like offer benefits and extra incentives to fill Friday and Monday assignments, the days teachers are most likely to call out.

While the $900,000 proposal would cost the district more per substitute, the board was told it would also free up employees at each school campus who are spending a lot of time trying to cover assignments. This agenda item did not come up for a vote.

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