Staff Writer

Amid a shortage of qualified substitute teachers, McComb Superintendent Tony Fenstermaker is calling for the Legislature to remove the requirement for subs to have four-year college degrees.

If the state required a high school diploma and a clean background check instead, he and other area superintendents say they would have a larger pool of potential substitutes to call on.

State Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, supports making a high school diploma the minimum educational requirement for subs, and allowing school boards to add more requirements if they want.

“I believe that the decision-making on some of this stuff should happen with the local school districts,” Cross said.

He is interested in either drafting or supporting legislation that would change the requirements.

Cross said there are “many qualified individuals,” perhaps with a two-year degree or a military or public service background, who would make good substitutes if allowed.

There are parents who would be willing to substitute, but lack the college degree, said Troy Roth, assistant superintendent for Findlay City Schools.

Fenstermaker pointed out that some supervisory roles are already filled by people without college degrees. Coaches and bus drivers don’t need that qualification, for example.

“In some aspects, coaches without four-year degrees supervise kids longer than a sub teacher would for a day,” he said. “If you’re at a wrestling tournament for a weekend, you could supervise students for 14 hours for two straight days, potentially.”

And a degree doesn’t prove that a person can supervise students, Fenstermaker added. “We have escorted licensed subs that had four-year degrees out of our building because of their unprofessionalism.”

Superintendents said teachers generally have lesson plans prepared for substitutes, so the key for substitutes is to be able to supervise.

The shortage affects all school districts, largest to smallest.

In September, Findlay had 55 to 60 instances of needing a substitute and not getting one, for a “fill rate” of about 87 percent, Roth said.

Vanlue Superintendent Traci Conley said her district has needed 17 subs so far this year, and filled eight of those spots.

The shortage is partly fueled by changes to public employee retirement rules, said Cory-Rawson Superintendent Heath Huffman.

“We used to have teachers who would retire at a somewhat earlier age who might sub for five or 10 years afterwards,” he said. “And now because teachers have to work longer to be able to retire, when they’re done, they’re done. And we’re not getting them back.”

Also, substitutes have gotten more choosy about the work they’ll take, superintendents said.

“When I got out of college, I was going to go to every single school, because I wanted to get my foot into every school. I didn’t pick and choose,” Conley said.

Now, more subs prefer certain subjects or grade levels, the superintendents said. Some only work in a few districts closer to home, and half-days are difficult for schools to fill because substitutes won’t drive as far for half the pay.

Pay starts at $85 a day for county schools and a bit more in Findlay, and increases for long-term assignments.

When there’s no substitute, administrators or counselors might fill in, or other teachers give up a planning period for extra pay.

Most area school districts use Renhill Group or Rachel Wixey & Associates to find substitutes, though Cory-Rawson and Riverdale make their own phone calls to find coverage.

Superintendents stressed that the problem isn’t teachers taking too much time off.

They’re entitled to their own sick days, and time off when their own children are born or get sick, Roth said.

Plus, “there’s a lot of meaningful professional development” and required training, some of which only happens during the school day, Fenstermaker said. That can cause numerous absences in one building or school district.

“Our absences haven’t gone up,” Riverdale Superintendent Jeff Young said, but there are fewer substitutes to fill in during those absences.

“Our legislators need to realize that when you don’t have a sub, there’s basically no education going on. There’s no instruction. And they’re the same legislators that mandated high-stakes testing,” Fenstermaker said.

Changing the law wouldn’t require more funding, and isn’t a party-line issue, the superintendents said.

Anyone who is qualified and interested in being a substitute can contact their local school district, the Hancock County Educational Service Center, Renhill, or Rachel Wixey.

And those who are interested but lack the required degree should tell their state legislators, Arlington Superintendent Kevin Haught suggested.

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