The nationwide teacher shortage presents some considerable challenges for school districts looking to employ cost-containment strategies. Superintendents and business managers must balance budgetary and human resource constraints with their ability to keep fill rates at acceptable levels. Without this balance, schools risk a negative impact on classroom learning by often pulling administrators and other personnel away from their primary duties or by merging multiple classes into one.
To find quality substitutes, districts across the country rely on a variety of strategies and methods. While many school systems rely on internal solutions, still others leverage online resources or turn to external management companies. But at the end of the day, they need to find the most dependable, cost-effective approach.
Option #1: Do-It-Yourself Absence Management
Many school districts take matters in their own hands. In this approach, HR employees or administrative assistants reach out to local communities to establish a reliable pool of substitute teachers.The upside to this system is the ability to build relationships and loyalty with a select pool of teachers. Through continued personal interaction, schools can get a feel for which teachers best fit the district’s needs on a daily or even permanent basis.
However, the in-house solution also creates administrative issues. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, all employers with more than 50 employees are required to offer health insurance to workers who average 130 hours per month during the school year. Tracking the hours of long-term subs can often be tricky, and erroneously calculating who does or doesn’t qualify for these benefits can invite substantial financial penalties. Failing to offer health insurance to at least 95% of full-time employees could cost a district $2,320 annually for each full-time employee.
Option #2: Online Absence Management Sourcing
Nowadays, there seems to be an electronic answer to every staffing dilemma. Find a website that specializes in substitute teacher populations, and a wealth of viable candidates can be viewed with a mouse-click. Employees tasked with finding substitutes can summon substitute teachers from anywhere, at any time. Convenience registers as one of the main advantages in using online resources to keep classrooms filled; some applications integrate with existing calendar software to make scheduling even easier.
On the other side of the coin, digital transactions lean toward the impersonal. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, a district might not know what type of individual it will get. Furthermore, technical challenges on either side of the transaction might prevent website access in the first place, and untimely updates could cloud a substitute’s true availability. As anyone can attest, technology works wonders when it works well, but the inevitable bugs and prolonged downtime can create administrative nightmares.
Option #3: Contracted Absence Management Solutions
With budget crunches and the potential cost of healthcare benefits looming, handing the reins to an absence management company has long been a viable alternative for schools looking to keep fill rates optimized. Offering affordable, turn-key solutions, education staffing agencies partner with districts to pair high-quality substitute teachers with schools and districts that have ongoing demand. Contracting the management of these efforts removes the daily burdens from administrators as these specialists handle the recruiting, hiring, and training of individuals whose skills are suitably tailored to the district’s needs. In addition, the resources of the district can be allocated to the proper channels. No longer will a building principal have to unexpectedly forsake their duties to teach a class or two.
Of course, change can be difficult to embrace for schools that have gotten accustomed to doing things a certain way. Passing the absence management torch to a trusted partner might be met with a bit of initial resistance, yet the benefits of contracting far outweigh both the monetary and resource costs. Joining forces with dedicated professionals gives districts the power to avert the extra time and expense of managing payroll, benefit plans, and retirement funding for long-term substitutes or even paraprofessional staff. This comprehensive solution lets employees focus on their primary day-to-day tasks while mitigating potentially disruptive impacts on students.
Selecting the Best Absence Management Solution for Your Substitute Teachers
In trying economic times, school districts need to make tough choices to stay within the parameters of their budget while offering students the education they deserve. When deciding among internal, online, or contracted staffing models, the best substitute solution is the one that minimizes costs and maximizes efficiency. Contracted management of substitutes allows administrators to properly allocate their time and resources to priority tasks without having to worry about stepping in to manage a classroom.
Before making any decision, administrators should speak to a professional third-party organization about the district’s particular needs and constraints, and weigh their options carefully. A true staffing partner will help school systems make an educated decision.
Ed Keating is a school business manager who blogs about concrete solutions to the many financial and administrative issues facing school districts today. In his spare time, Ed enjoys fishing, backpacking, and camping with his wife and two daughters, Molly and Anne.