Teacher vacancies, increased absences, and low pay resulted in Kelly Education Staffing struggling to meet a 95 percent substitute fill rate goal for Houston County Schools last school year.
Despite filling more absences than ever before in Houston County Schools for the 2018-2019 school year, Kelly Services still maintained a 91 percent fill rate percentage, the same as the year before.
Lissa Dusel, senior talent manager for Kelly Services, gave a data-oriented presentation to a packed boardroom Monday filled with Houston County School principals.
“From this quick snapshot of our data, we did have a significant increase in needed substitutes meaning we had an increase in the number of absences requested (to be filled),” Dusel explained to the board. “So, even though we increased our active sub pool, our fill rate didn’t show the improvement that we wanted.”
Kelly Services not only provides temporary staffing solutions for teachers, but also for custodians, lunchroom workers, teacher aides, and certain clerical staff. Those numbers are included in the data presented.
Data showed that the number of posted vacancies in the school district increased by 24 percent from 8,195 in the 2017 school year to 10,131 vacancies over the course of same period of time in 2018-2019.
“When we were brought back in to a relationship with you, we were kind of starting over. We had to re-hire all our substitutes for your district,” Dusel said, referring to the board’s decision to not renew Kelly Service’s contract for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
“And our first year back, we did have a significant drop, from 261 substitutes to 218 substitutes coming back so we really tried to improve our recruiting efforts. This past school year, we did increase our sub pool to 243 substitutes actively working almost every day.”
Still, they were not able to cover the spread. Fridays, which may come as no surprise, was the most requested day off.
“There’s an increase across the board,” Patrick Mallory, director of client services, addressed the boardroom. “There are a lot of vacancy positions, harder-to-fill positions, turnover. It’s not unique to you guys.”
Vacancy positions are generally long-term solutions to unfilled jobs, largely due to more people leaving the profession as a whole and difficulty recruiting math and science educators.
Vacancies made up 31 percent of the total number of fill requests for staff in Houston County Schools, not including Child Nutrition Program employees.
Sick days made up the largest portion, with 5,847 absences last year, which are often last-minute call-ins that are harder to fill. Thirteen percent of sick days were not filled last year, which some principals said caused strain on teachers who had to give up planning periods to watch someone else’s classroom.
Behind sick days were professional development days, which made up 12 percent of total requests. Personal days and vacation days made up 6.5 percent of requests.
Mallory added the problem to increase the fill rate percentage was a shortage of employees created by a change in the local economy, low unemployment rate, and more competitive pay in the region.
“We’ve got places right now that we’re competing with – you’ve got Walmart, Publix, Target – a lot of these places are paying $13, $14, $15 an hour for starting wage,” Mallory said. “That has had an impact on fill rates across the board.”
He did note that, at $65 a day, Houston County Schools does offer a better average substitute teacher rate than some surrounding school districts.
Another problem identified by Dusel was teachers who call substitute friends to cover their class. Those substitutes might drop a previous assignment to pick up the absence at a closer or more favorable location.
Chronic absenteeism among teachers, defined as having more than 10 documented absent days, is a national and local problem. According to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center of recent federal data, 28 percent of teachers did not attend work on days on which they were otherwise expected to in the 2015-2016 school year.
That year, Houston County High School had 100 percent rate of chronic absenteeism, meaning every school teacher was absent for more than 10 days, according to a 2018 Education Week Research Center analysis of Civil Rights Data.
Board members discussed with officials ways to prevent misuse of personal and sick days like possibly creating “black out” days that would hinder personnel from requesting to be absent on days before long holiday weekends.
Dothan City Schools also recently signed an agreement to use Kelly Education Staffing for teacher, teacher aide, and nurse substitutes.