Frustrated by a shortage of qualified substitute teachers, Baltimore County school officials are expected to propose this month increasing pay as much as 36 percent for the 1999-2000 school year.
Baltimore County substitute teachers have long been the lowest paid in Baltimore's suburbs, and the increase would eliminate most of the disparity.
"The belief is that we're losing substitute teachers to other school systems that pay more," said Michael Goodhues, director of the school system's office of management and budget and chairman of a county task force on substitute teachers. "We need to be able to compete with other jurisdictions."
The pay raises would be the most dramatic of the recommendations proposed by the task force, which was charged by the superintendent with examining how to resolve the district's problems of having too many teachers out of the classroom and too few substitute teachers available to fill in for them.
Other steps include changing the accounting methods of elementary schools, which would keep schools from taking funds used for instructional materials to pay for substitute teachers, and examining how often teachers are pulled from their classrooms for training.
Getting qualified substitute teachers and reducing the time teachers are out of schools have concerned parents, teachers and administrators, particularly as the strong local economy made substitute teaching less attractive financially. It was a topic of debate at a recent Baltimore County PTA Council meeting.
"This is a very upsetting issue to parents," said Mary Pat Kahle, chairwoman of the PTA Council's legislation committee. "I can't emphasize enough that there have got to be better ways to do staff development than pulling teachers out of the classroom."
The school system has spent $3.5 million to $4 million annually on substitute teachers in the past few school years. It's not clear how much more the salary increase would cost because substitute teachers are paid different amounts based on their qualifications. No systemwide figures exist on how many substitute teachers were hired in the county schools last year.
Proposed pay increases
School officials expect the proposed operating budget for 1999-2000 to call for the daily pay of substitute teachers without college degrees to increase from $34.55 to $47. Substitute teachers with college degrees would see their daily pay increase from $48.40 to $55.
Substitute teachers who fill in for teachers for longer periods are paid more -- $47 per day for substitutes without colleges degrees and $72.55 per day for those with college degrees. Those rates would not change, Goodhues said.
The proposed raises should bring Baltimore County substitute teachers' pay more in line with those in other area school systems.
Substitute teachers without college degrees are paid $45 a day in Anne Arundel and Harford counties and $55 in Howard County. Substitute teachers with college degrees are paid $50 in Anne Arundel, $55 in Harford and $60 in Howard.
The competition for substitute teachers is most acute in southern Baltimore County, where potential substitutes also can look to Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
"I think the pay raise will help," said Anne Gold, principal of Lansdowne Elementary School. "Hopefully, more substitute teachers will come forward when more money is offered."
For elementary schools, the other change is in the accounting of substitute teachers' pay.
Several years ago, the money for substitute teachers was transferred to individual schools' budgets. If schools spent less than their annual allotments, they could keep the money -- but they were forced to dip into other accounts if they went over their substitute allotment of three days per teacher.
For small elementary schools, illnesses among a few staff members quickly sapped their budgets, eating into money that might have been spent on textbooks, photocopies or other supplies.
The accounting change -- which was made last month -- centralizes the substitute teacher budget for elementary schools. Elementary schools will no longer need to cut into other funds if they exceed their substitute budgets.
The task force recommended that the same accounting change be made for middle and high schools, but the superintendent's leadership staff rejected it because the secondary schools rarely exceed their budgets for substitutes.
Middle and high school teachers are often asked to use their planning periods to fill in for absent colleagues, allowing schools to save money.
The number of teacher absences for personal leave or illness might be reduced through incentives, but such a move would require negotiations with the teachers union.
Staff training absences
The task force will examine how often and when substitute teachers are needed because of staff training.
In late November and early December, most of the county's elementary schools were scheduled for at least one day of training. The schools that rely on college students as substitutes had trouble finding replacements because many college students had final exams and didn't have time to fill in.
The county's roster of qualified substitute teachers might be increased if the school system were to consider offering incentives to retired teachers to fill in, said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and a task force member.
"If you gave retired teachers a higher pay level or improvements in their health benefits, you might find a number of them willing to come back into the schools," Beytin said. "I think the retired teachers would have a lot to offer to fix this problem."
Pub Date: 1/04/99