Bonuses ease the scramble for substitute teachers

School leaders in Kuna, Nampa and West Ada say bonuses are helping fill classrooms with adults following a wave of staff shortages due to illnesses fueled by the pandemic.

Kuna School District staff spent much of January doing the adult shuffle, filling dozens of classrooms by pulling teachers from their preparation time to lead classes unfilled by substitutes, Assistant Superintendent Dave Reinhart said. “It took a village, really, to keep things open.”

Teachers have been “incredible” fill-ins, he added, but it’s a lot of extra work as the pandemic lumbers on.

Before COVID-19, the Nampa School District’s substitute coordinator Tina McMullen could routinely fill all teacher-less classrooms with a substitute. Now, she celebrates an 80% fill rate.

“I call it COVID pretty,” she said of declining staff absences. “It’s not pretty, but it’s COVID pretty.”

At one point in January, almost half of Nampa’s classrooms lacked an available sub, forcing janitors, principals and district employees to fill in. Nampa temporarily closed multiple schools. Spokesperson Kathleen Tuck said the closures appear to be paying off. Substitute fill rates rose to 87% Monday.

Now, thanks to the bonus program, there’s breathing room.

Dozens of adults have applied to be substitutes in Nampa, lured by the added money, and they are willing to work “notoriously” difficult Mondays and Fridays, McMullen said.

Kuna added 25 new substitutes since starting its bonus program, more than doubling the pool.

Here’s how the bonuses programs break down in three Treasure Valley districts:

  • Kuna School District: Base pay is $90 per day. An extra $30 is awarded for covering Monday and Friday classes, on top of other bonuses. Classified staffers receive $100 for every five substitute assignments. The bonus program ends Feb. 15.
  • Nampa School District: Base pay is $95 per day, $105 for last-minute assignments and more for long-term assignments. An extra $70 is awarded daily for Monday and Friday shifts, with $35 extra for other weekdays. The bonus program may end in mid-March, pending district evaluation.
  • West Ada School District: Base pay is $80 for substitutes without teaching certificates. Subs receive 1.5 times their daily pay for working four days a week, and pay doubles for five-day weeks. Classified staffers receive doubled pay for work done outside their typical schedule. Certified staffers who “assist with additional duties or classroom coverage” during their prep times get $50 an hour. The bonus program ends Feb. 25.

Nampa’s bonuses were paid through COVID relief funds, Tuck said. Kuna’s latest bonuses come from the district’s budget, Reinhart said. Last fall, the district tapped into COVID relief funds to issue bonuses.

Relying on so many subs can “take a toll on learning,” Reinhart said, but he’s proud Kuna is avoiding closures because he said students benefit from the social aspects of in-person instruction and from other staples like school lunches.

“The lesson may be affected, but the caring and being around adults, that continues. “… (W)e’d always prefer to have their classroom teacher, but we also know that we greatly value our substitutes that have really stepped up,” Reinhart said.

Nampa officials said subs are often doing “classroom management” as all students have tablets and laptops that teachers can send instructions to.

“We’re not saying it’s ideal. We’re not saying it’s exactly the same as having a teacher in the classroom,” Tuck said. “But we feel good that there’s a process where teachers can teach.”

Substitutes are often retired, or they have children attending the school. Rarely, do subs want to work five days a week, McMullen said. “We literally are like the fourth thing in their life.”

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the implementation of policy in Idaho’s K-12 public school system. He’s a military brat and former health care reporter who holds degrees in Journalism and Political Science from University of Idaho. Follow Kyle on Twitter @pfannyyy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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