In about a month, the Polk County School District will be switching to a new private sector method of filling classrooms with substitute teachers.
In early March, the function now being handled by the district, will be handed over to Kelly Educational Services. Kelly will be responsible for recruiting new substitutes for outlying schools with a problem keeping classrooms staffed; keeping track of substitutes and paying them — all functions now being done by the District’s Human Resources Department.
Under the school district, the placement of substitutes is handled via an automated system, which Kelly also will use, said Kelly spokeswoman Celia Archambault. Archambault told the school board at the Jan. 28 meeting in Davenport, that there presently were 1,443 substitutes making the transition to Kelly Services, of which 899 already had been trained in the new Kelly procedures.
She also said Kelly had targeted some 2,000 part-time fill-in teachers to see that Polk school classes were staffed by teachers, not paraprofessionals, as is sometimes the case now, particularly in outlying schools like those in the Poinciana and Frostproof areas.
“We hope to find teachers who are either in that vicinity or are willing to go to those schools,” she explained.
Earlier this year, principals from some of Polk’s more rural schools had complained to the school board that they were having to take paraprofessionals from their classroom-assisting jobs to substitute for absent teachers.
One segment of potential substitute teachers Kelly plans to reach out to, according to earlier reports, are retired Polk teachers who have just recently given up their classrooms. Under existing regulations, a recently retired classroom teacher cannot be immediately hired by the district as a substitute. Kelly taking over the substitute system alleviates that issue because subs become Kelly employees and are not directly hired by the school system.
Under the new system, Kelly also will perform background investigations on potential substitute teachers as well as vetting their educational backgrounds. Archambault also told board members that Kelly subs will be paid weekly and by day units at the existing $80 a day wage. She also said those subs who work more than 30 hours per week will qualify for health insurance under Kelly which was one reason the board opted to out-source the whole substitute teacher program.
“Medical insurance will be offered to those subs who want to work 30 hours or more,” Archambault explained. The school district is self-insured and was concerned that the 30-hour rule would up the number of insurees, and hike their costs.
One concern voiced by Board Member Debra Wright is the deportment of substitutes in the classroom. “I am concerned about behaviors,” she said. “We want to make sure our subs have the same qualities our teachers do. I have seen some things I was not happy about.”
“If we have poor subs now,” added Board Member Tim Harris, “We don’t want them back in our classrooms.”
Archambault explained that Kelly subs are trained not only in classroom teaching protocols,but on the proper treatment of students and their own behavior.
“We want to give you quality people,” she added, “And some who have gone through the transition training didn’t make it. We are making sure they all get the coaching they need.”
Wright also asked how Kelly would handle “last-minute needs.”
“Our people will be required to be at the school within one hour of the time they are notified. But, we must have time to notify a sub they are needed and get them to the classroom.”
She also said that Kelly was meeting with school administrators this week to outline procedures that will streamline the substitute system and make sure classrooms are staffed.
She further told the board that Kelly’s operations center opens at 5:30 a.m. and that should be ample time to find a substitute if a call comes in at the last minute.
Some schools, including Bartow High School for example, have what the district refers to as pilot subs — substitutes who work solely for one school. Harris asked what their status would be, to which Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy said, “Their status stays the same. They will stay where they are, and they will just be paid by Kelly now, not us.”
No fixed cost for Kelly’s services was discussed at the January meeting, but earlier discussion indicated it could cost as much as $718,000.