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Teacher pay boost tradeoff: fewer subs

In exchange for average 10 percent raises, the district gets a little tighter-fisted with money for substitutes.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published September 20, 2006


TAMPA - Hillsborough County teachers received larger than usual raises this year, an average of 10 percent.

Now school administrators want to make sure they come to work.

That's why they cut this year's budget for substitute teachers by $1.5-million and limited schools to just six substitute days per teacher.

"There is no substitute - no pun intended - for the teacher in the classroom," said chief of staff Ken Otero, who helped create the plan.

If a school uses up its money, it will have to find ways with its existing staff to cover a teacher's absence.

Otherwise, "we wouldn't have a budget, would we?" Otero said.

Administrators are including an incentive: Schools get to keep any money that doesn't get used. A substitute teacher's day is worth $75.

The district will continue to pay for substitutes to cover for teacher absences due to jury duty, long-term leave and approved teacher training.

The new policy is causing a stir among teachers, who sent a flurry of questions and complaints to the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

One of the biggest confusions, association president Jean Clements said, is whether every teacher will be limited to six days off.

The answer is no. The six days represent the average number of days substitutes were needed per teacher last year. Some took no days off, while others took more than six.

Teachers will continue to earn their contractual 10 days off each year, which they can use, set aside for the future or cash out when they retire. Otero said principals will advise teachers their accrued days off gain value over time - another way to encourage them to come to work.

Principals interviewed Tuesday had few concerns about the new program, though some noted it does nothing to help them find all the subs they need.

The demand is particularly high on Fridays, Mondays and days before holidays. Sometimes, just the location of a school makes it tough to get someone to come out.

"It's a long way across the county," said Karen Bass, principal of Bryant Elementary School in Hillsborough's northwest corner. "If I have a stomach bug go through and we've got eight or 10 teachers out, I'm not going to fill them all. I know that."

The low rate of pay for substitutes - $10.65 per hour if you have a teaching certificate, $9.21 for someone with a college degree but no teaching license - doesn't help matters. Still, that's about 5 percent more than a year ago.

School Board member Candy Olson said the district will have to watch the program carefully to make sure it has the intended effect. The goal is to have quality teachers in the classroom and to save money.

"If there's poor judgment exercised, that would be a concern," Olson said.

One potential pitfall: principals deciding not to hire substitutes, instead choosing to bank the days so they can get the money at the end of the year.

Such problems were considered, Otero said, but the consensus was that they wouldn't happen.

"This is not a fundraiser," he said, noting that the district will make any adjustments necessary.

Deputy superintendent Dan Valdez said the plan will work because, "by and large, the vast majority of teachers want to be with their kids."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5304.

[Last modified September 20, 2006, 01:22:09]


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