After hearing substitute teachers’ concerns, Unit 5 officials want them to join the conversation.
During Unit 5's school board meeting Wednesday night, Executive Director of Human Resources and Student Services James Harden announced plans to form an advisory group to help address substitute teacher issues.
The group will consist of Unit 5 subs, teachers, administrators and education officer personnel, and it will consider the district's substitute teacher pay rate. District officials also plan to investigate paying substitute teachers twice a month, Harden said. Unit 5 currently pays subs on a roughly six-week basis.
Harden said he’ll present members of the committee for approval at the board’s next meeting Sept. 26.
The announcement comes after a longtime Unit 5 sub told district officials at the last board meeting the district needs to rethink how and how much it pays substitute teachers. Three more Unit 5 subs spoke Wednesday night with additional concerns.
Duane Malany is a second-year sub at Unit 5. Malany agreed with other speakers’ concerns over pay, adding the district could do more to ensure subs feel valued in its schools.
“I’ve only had three positive experiences where the principal or the assistant principal on hand would introduce themselves, thank me for being there,” he said. “Those schools, I’ve become loyal to, and I’ve pretty much avoided the other schools.”
Malany also said he received no training for the role beyond initial instruction on classroom first aid and workplace sexual harassment. He suspects those issues may be part of the district’s difficulties finding substitutes to fill its classrooms.
Unit 5 Business Manager and Treasurer Marty Hickman said the district had thousands of unfilled substitute teacher and paraprofessional jobs last year. When administrators can’t find a sub, they’re forced to ask other teachers or paraprofessional educators to cover the vacancy, or even fill the role themselves, he said.
Since the Aug. 22 meeting, Harden said he and other administrators gathered information comparing pay and policies with neighboring districts. Harden said substitute teacher pay rates in Unit 5 closely match those in Bloomington’s District 87, while other surrounding districts’ pay rates vary. Those that pay more tend to be smaller districts with fewer openings, he said.
Unit 5 School Board Vice President Mike Trask said the pay issues are a symptom of the district’s financial woes—one it hopes to provide with a temporary fix using upcoming bonds.
The board took the first step Wednesday night toward issuing $16.5 million in cash bonds to pay for education expenses including staff pay, as well as the addition at Colene Hoose Elementary School.
“For many years now, revenue has not met with expenses, whether with state revenue being prorated or not coming at all, or just the slow growth in property values here locally,” Hickman said. “So this has been a discussion over many years, many budget cycles. The steps the board took this evening for the working cash bonds is a two-year, temporary solution. At the end of that two years, we need to have talked with the community to see what the next steps are.”
The tax levy needed to finance the bonds is expected to cost the average Unit 5 household about $17 a month in the first few years, Hickman said. The levy will come before the board for approval in December.
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