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Pasco schools struggle to find substitute teachers

A pay increase is one possible solution, officials say.

With regional unemployment down, Pasco County schools have found it more difficult than usual to locate substitutes who can fill in when classroom teachers are absent.

“The current daily fill rate is hovering around 76 percent district-wide, and we know that schools are accustomed to this rate being much higher,” district human resources director Kim Newberry told principals in a recent memo.

The last time the district found itself in a similar situation, about five years ago, the School Board increased its substitute pay rates as part of its solution.

Related: <b>RELATED:</b>Pasco aims to address challenges for substitute teachers

Officials are looking at boosting the pay, which starts at $65 per day, once again as a way to attract more applicants.

“We’re going to look at changing the rates,” assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said.

Some talk has taken place about hiring an outside agency, as other neighboring school systems have done. But Shibley noted such a move would cost an administrative fee.

“The money would be better invested in increasing rates for our subs,” he said, suggesting an adjustment could come as the district improves salaries for other employees.

The district is taking other steps, as well, to attract what it refers to as “guest teachers.” Those include hiring events on both sides of the county later in October.

At the same time, Newberry encouraged principals to do all they can to limit teacher training during school days, and to keep the substitutes they already have.

“A small effort on your part can have a positive impact on guest teacher retention,” Newberry wrote.

She offered ideas such as giving them free cafeteria lunch passes, supporting them in discipline decisions, and providing packages that include a bottle of water and snack along with a school map, school discipline policy and important contact names and numbers.

Meanwhile, schools will continue to deal with their vacancies when they are unable to find substitutes. Their efforts include splitting classes among teachers who remain, assigning non-classroom teachers to the students, and asking non-instructional employees to take classes.