As school districts throughout the Monadnock Region continue to struggle to find enough substitute teachers and staff, several districts have raised pay for subs in an attempt to recruit more people.
N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 — which covers the Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland districts — instituted substitute pay raises effective Sept. 13. Substitute teachers now make $100 per day, and nurse subs make $125 per day, both up from a daily rate of $85 previously. SAU 29 is also offering a $1,000 bonus to any substitute who works 50 days in the first semester and the same bonus for working another 50 days in the second semester.
Superintendent Robert Malay said that additional incentive has helped SAU 29 recruit at least 12 new applicants for substitute positions and prompted some existing subs to work more than they currently do.
“So we’ve seen more people pop up in our substitute pool since we’ve made that change,” Malay said Tuesday. “And we’ve heard from existing folks in the pool that they’re going to take on additional days because they want to get to that bonus.”
The Hinsdale School District raised substitute teacher rates from $90 to $125 per day at the beginning of the school year, human resources director Ann Diorio said. The change has helped the district get some more subs, but “not as many as I’d like to,” she said. Ideally, Diorio said, Hinsdale’s pool of substitutes would be twice its current size, though she did not have that figure available Tuesday.
In the Monadnock Regional School District — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — the school board recently approved raising the rate for a substitute teacher from $85 to $125 per day, along with daily raises for substitute paraprofessionals, maintenance staff and school nurses.
But Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Rathbun said it’s too early to tell whether these pay increases are having an impact on the district’s challenge to find subs.
“It didn’t even go into effect until last Monday [Sept. 27],” Rathbun said Tuesday. “We’ve had five, six school days since that’s happened. So, I don’t think we’ve seen the effect yet. ... We haven’t seen an uptick of people picking up jobs or applying to be a substitute, necessarily.”
Both Malay and Rathbun said finding a sufficient number of substitutes is a perennial challenge for school districts statewide. Recruitment has only grown more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, when industries across virtually all sectors of the economy have struggled to find enough workers, Rathbun added.
“Every position in the school district, we’re fighting harder to fill, and that includes substitutes,” he said. “Filling our open positions has definitely been more difficult during the pandemic, and substitutes are right there with all the other positions.”
Malay said substitutes are often tougher to find than full-time educators because the potential applicant pool is smaller, since most people won’t relocate to work as a sub.
“It’s a little different in that regard, so you’re pulling from existing people in your area or in your region, because people aren’t going to just up and move and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go plop down in Keene, New Hampshire, so I can be a substitute’,” he said. “... So I think it makes it difficult in that regard, where, if you’re hiring a full-time teacher, they’re going to come from different parts of the state, the region or even the country.”
Districts typically maintain a list of substitute teachers and other staff to call on when permanent employees are out, but Rathbun said the length of those lists doesn’t always indicate whether a district will have enough subs to meet its needs.
“So, if you look at a district our size, where we’re stretched out from Fitzwilliam to Gilsum, if you’ve got a sub who’s signed up who lives in Fitzwilliam, they’re probably not going to drive 45 minutes to go sub at Gilsum,” he said. “So, if you look at the size of our sub pool, it’s one thing, but then you have to look at where do these people live, and in a stretched-out district like ours, does it make sense for them to want to sub somewhere that could be a half-an-hour, 45-minute drive away?”
Hopefully, Rathbun added, the new pay rates will provide more incentive for subs in situations like this.
“We’re definitely hopeful that if we can raise those rates, that it becomes a lot more worth that drive,” he said.
In the meantime, Rathbun said the Monadnock district will keep deploying its existing strategies to recruit substitutes, such as advertising, asking retired teachers if they are interested in subbing and working with Keene State College to find qualified education students to work as subs. Substitute teachers, Rathbun added, only need a high school diploma and an interest in working with students, along with passing state and federally required background checks.
“We do our fingerprinting right here. We’ve done everything we can to make the onboarding process as easy as possible,” he said, noting that people can apply online and take care of all their application paperwork in one place, if their references check out. “... We’ve streamlined it as much as possible to make it quick and easy.”