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COVID causes Seneca Valley shortages

Substitute teachers may get pay raise

Seneca Valley School District superintendent Tracy Vitale on Monday told the school board of the continued difficulties finding substitutes as COVID-19 races through faculty and the board plans to raise pay rates for all classes of substitutes through June.

“Staffing shortages are our biggest concern right now and, to be honest, it is wearing out our teachers and all of our staff members,” Vitale said. “We have staffing shortages in every classification, from cafeteria to bus drivers, to custodians, to maintenance, to administrators, to teachers.”

Vitale originally asked community members to, if they are able, help the district as a substitute in any department. The district's troubles now, however, are worse.

“This is probably some of the worst numbers I've seen in my career,” she said.

The biggest impact to the district now is with certified teachers, Vitale said, and the staffing shortages there have reached the point schools are now pulling other teachers and even administrators “so that they can cover for their colleagues who are sick.”

On Friday, Vitale said as an example, the district had 63 “professional absences” requiring a substitute; 28 of those were unfilled by a substitute, leaving other teachers and staff to fill the role.

In the short term, this may potentially prompt a shift, for a day or a week, to online learning, with Vitale citing examples from within Butler County.

“Several local school districts — private, parochial and/or public — had to either close individual classrooms or close their entire system because maybe they're small and couldn't cover those absences,” Vitale said. “We were able to cover them last week, but this will continue to be difficult for us to manage if the COVID numbers continue to be at the level that we're seeing them.

“Our nurses have never seen this many cases.”

Looking longer-term, these teachers or administrators are often pulled not from a class they teach, but from planning periods or other times during which they perform other work. This, Vitale said, leads the staff to perform that work in the evenings or on weekends.

“We have made this work, but it has not been easy and I have to tell you that I am concerned about staff burnout,” Vitale said.

The school board next Monday will consider permanently raising, for the 2021-22 school year, the rates it pays substitutes, extending an action the district took in November. Vitale said nine additional substitutes joined the district in December and she hopes extending the pay raise will incentivize others to join.

“It will be significantly increased because we need to keep the doors open, and we need to be cognizant that we are burning people out: Our employees,” Vitale said.