Budgeting for substitute teachers can present quite a challenge to cash-strapped school districts across the country. In addition to anticipated expenses, the related costs can accrue, quickly getting out of hand if you do not have a solid understanding of what you are spending annually for this important line item. It can be easy to overlook the soft costs incurred by school districts throughout the lengthy process of recruiting, hiring, training, and managing substitute teachers.
Fortunately, this budget item has a viable alternative to the traditional model of handling substitute teachers in district. Working with an education staffing agency to access substitute teacher services can be a cost-saving way to consolidate expenditures and relieve district departments of the variety of administrative tasks related to their management. To make an informed decision, it is necessary to examine the soft costs that may impact your bottom line.
How Soft Costs Accrue During Substitute Teacher Management
Some of the expenses related to the employment of substitute teachers are visible as discrete items on the district’s operating budget. But soft costs and hidden expenses may be less obvious. These may be easily overlooked as they are often embedded in other budget line items. Usually, they represent time spent on processing or supporting the hiring and retention of substitute teacher employees.
Before Substitute Teachers Are Hired
Expenses begin to accumulate right from the beginning as human resources and communications staff begin the recruitment process. The costs of purchasing airtime, designing and printing flyers, and paying for postage are expended early on. There may be travel expenses for recruitment trips to colleges and universities, as well as facilities rentals and refreshment costs for job fair events. The time dedicated by district employees to organizing and staffing these events may be significant, particularly in an era characterized by a shrinking talent pool. And keep in mind these costs are incurred well before any substitute teachers are actually hired.
During the Hiring Process
Once good candidates have been located, the hiring and vetting process begins. With a focus on interviewing, reference and credentials follow-up, background checks, and the processing of paperwork, these procedures are generally the responsibility of human resources staff. Depending on the number of candidates and the complexity of their prior experience, these steps could involve substantial time. Though career fairs and hiring events are a regular occurrence during the summer months, most districts must devote resources to ongoing hiring efforts throughout the school year, as the nationwide teacher shortage has depleted the pool of available candidates.
After Substitutes Are Hired
Once substitute teachers are hired and processed, it’s time for orientation and training. Upon completion, they are ready to be placed into service. At this point, as district employees, your substitute teachers move into a maintenance mode. Much like your other employees, substitute teachers will require payroll and benefits services. They will be subject to attendance and disciplinary actions when necessary. Hopefully, once employed, they will be an asset that supports continuity of instruction and adds value to your district initiatives.
How to Track Soft Costs in a School Budget Planning Worksheet
In order to make an informed decision, it is essential to determine all of the costs associated with your substitute teacher workforce. Look at each of these areas and analyze what you are spending, how you are spending, and if this time and money could be better spent elsewhere.
Though there may be substantial differences in individual districts, here is a breakdown of the some of the typical soft costs a school district can expect to incur when employing substitute teachers.
*This graphic represents a sample summary of the annual soft costs involved in the employment of substitute teachers for a district that has a 28,000 student enrollment, 2,000 teachers, and 44 schools
Understanding Your School Budget Worksheet
Most of the administrative burden for hiring and preparing substitute teachers for the classroom falls on Human Resources staff. The cost of their efforts figures prominently in the breakdown of expenses — some that are obvious and others that may be more obscure.
Human Resources Costs
Unfortunately, when a substitute teacher is not available, school districts must budget for the cost of unfilled classrooms. This typically includes stipends paid to school staff members who give up their lunch or prep periods to cover those classrooms. These costs are inversely proportional to the district fill-rate for teacher absences.
Onboarding Substitute Teachers
Once substitute teachers have been recruited and hired, the orientation process continues under the direction of HR staff. At a minimum, new employees are introduced and must agree to key Board of Education policies. These may require new hires to understand and sign off on policies related to sexual harassment, tobacco use, corporal punishment, and dress code, as examples. Additional training to prepare new employees may consist of videos and online, on-demand training modules that new employees access on their own.
Filing and Processing Paperwork
From applications and references to background checks and required agreements, the hiring of substitute teachers results in the processing of substantial paperwork. Compliance with licensing requirements varies by state. Processing the necessary forms involves the efforts of multiple HR employees who ensure that all paperwork is in order before new hires may be allowed to work.
Corrective Action at the School Level
Like all employees, substitute teachers must meet performance standards and follow work rules. On occasion, building administrators must initiate corrective action to address failures or infractions. Their efforts can add up over time.
Corrective Action at the District Level
Failure to demonstrate improvement may result in the need for progressive disciplinary action, eventually reaching the district level.Through the coordination of building administrators and district departments, a fair and objective process will be followed to identify problems, establish solutions, and provide follow-up for remediation.
Onsite Coordination of Substitutes
Whether at each building or at the district level, someone must oversee the scheduling and deployment of substitute teachers. In districts with an automated system, this person will serve as a point of contact, troubleshooting technology glitches and keeping things running. In a district without an automated absence management system, however, this coordination will involve substantial daily effort as absences are reported, substitutes are dispatched, and records are maintained.
Contracting with a Third Party Administrator
A sizable expense for districts that employ substitute teachers is the cost of benefits, including health care insurance and 401(k) investment. As a benefit of their employment, substitute teachers who meet or exceed the minimum requirement for full-time hours are entitled to health care insurance. They may also be eligible for retirement benefits. Amid rising pension and health insurance costs, these represent significant expenditures for school districts attempting to maintain their own substitute teacher pool. Subject to both federal and state laws, school districts must periodically evaluate the number of hours worked by part-time employees to determine their eligibility.
Reporting and Compliance
Beyond the actual cost of health care premiums and retirement contributions, each district will also incur expenses related to administration of these programs. These soft costs include the personnel required for reporting and compliance functions pertaining to ACA participation. Failure to report accurately and on time may result in substantial fines for the district.
Business Office Costs
Manual check production
The costs of paying district substitute teachers include a variety of accounting functions related to coordinating pay rates and budget centers. These may involve the efforts of both building and district staff. Since each substitute teacher fills job assignments on a temporary and variable basis likely involving multiple schools, this may include the manual entry of data into a district payroll system. Whether your district uses an automated or manual payroll system, the variability of substitutes’ weekly schedule likely requires careful oversight.
Pay processing often begins at the building level with payroll staff checking sign-in sheets or timecards. This information is then forwarded to district staff for verification of job codes, assignment locations, and hours worked. Substitute teachers must be assigned the correct pay rate for their experience (certified teacher, Bachelor’s degree, two years of college), the pay code for their job description (short term, long term, or permanent substitute) and their services debited against the correct budget (teacher absence, vacancy, professional development, etc.) at the building or district level. If the district counts retired educators among their substitute staff, there are likely additional tasks related to compliance. Regulations vary from state to state, but may require reporting their hours and wages.
Best Budget Planning Worksheet Practice: Focus on Your Bottom Line
Though conducting a deep dive may require some time and effort, the identification of hidden expenses and soft costs associated with your substitute teacher workforce should be a revealing endeavor. In doing so, you can determine the feasibility of making a staffing change and seeking a new solution. With a realistic cost breakdown in hand, you can effectively track annual spending and evaluate the viable alternatives.
If you find, as did the district depicted in our sample, that those soft costs have gotten out of hand, it is time to look at the innovative solutions made possible by partnering with a staffing management agency. After finding out just how much of your budget is wasted on the myriad of related tasks, consider the cost savings of working with an experienced staffing agency like ESS. Conducting a cost-benefit analysis will compare those previously determined expenses of handling everything in-house with the alternative of accessing substitute teacher services on a contractual basis.
The ESS Advantage
With the hiring of more than 40,000 substitute teachers over the past 18 years, ESS has learned a few things about building a workforce that successfully addresses districts’ needs and improves their fill-rates. From start to finish, we handle everything from recruiting and training to payroll and corrective action. By devising dynamic solutions customized to suit each district, ESS can help you streamline operations and disrupt the status quo. With a proven track record of service to more than 650 school district across the U.S., our offerings include:
- Robust and continuous recruitment that continues to build your talent pool year-round
- Meticulous, face-to-face, personalized training that orients and prepares highly-qualified new hires
- Specialized and ongoing training alternatives that keep employees up-to-date with best instructional and classroom management practices
- Guaranteed benefit packages that provide a powerful draw for new employees and a way to retain them long-term
- Unmatched customer service with “boots on the ground” local management to provide ongoing oversight and support
- Recognition and incentive programs that convey respect and high regard, thereby boosting retention
- Proven administrative relief that assumes responsibility for the payroll, compliance, and reporting burden previously shouldered by district employees
ESS frees up district resources, thus decreasing your indirect costs. As you budget for substitute teacher service, we can customize a solution that increases productivity and fill-rates while decreasing the associated expenses and the reporting requirements to your district.
Contact ESS to take these budgeting challenges off your plate. From talent acquisition to talent management and support, you will receive full-service attention from our team of experienced professionals. We’ll help you find a better way.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.