JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the St. Johns County School District struggles to fill substitute teacher positions, employees from the district office have been asked to step into classrooms to replace teachers who may be out sick or quarantining.
A district spokeswoman told News4Jax on Tuesday that about six district employees who are certified teachers are filling in as substitute teachers at county schools each day but added that it’s not uncommon to have district staff support schools at the beginning of the year or other times when needed.
But the district is still making a push to hire more substitutes for all grade levels to fill the voids.
Angie Filipsic has worked as a substitute in the district for nine years, but she has not signed up to sub this year for a host of reasons, including low pay, the current mask requirements and what she said is a lack of training for the challenges of teaching during the pandemic.
“I was going to [substitute teach] this year. I think we all were kind of hoping that this year was going to be better, that maybe things were going to be back to normal. But for me right now, it’s still not worth the risk. And I just, I don’t want to. The money is not there. There’s not the incentive,” Filipsic said.
St. Johns County substitute teachers are paid $15 an hour.
“Why am I going to substitute, making 15 bucks an hour when I have a college degree and I could work at Buc-ee’s for $17 an hour?” Filipsic said, adding that she also doesn’t want to wear a mask for eight hours a day.
As of Monday, there were 89 district employees who tested positive for COVID-19 and 50 who were in quarantine.
The average number of vacancies in the district is about 80, which includes paraprofessionals, associate teachers and teachers, with some of the vacancies coming due to growth, the district said.
“We are very aggressively trying to recruit and to get great people into the system, as we get larger and as we move forward,” Superintendent Tim Forson said during a school board meeting last week.
The district said it is averaging 200 subs working each day and 350 people have worked at least one day as a substitute since the school year started. The district does have a pool of over 700 subs to pull from, with 100 hired in the last week, but the jobs are voluntary.
The head of the St. Johns County teachers union said the vacancies create issues for other teachers in the schools.
“The sub shortage is having an incredible impact on our teachers and our support staff, as well. When we can’t find a sub, there is a trickle-down effect and other teachers are being asked now to cover for that vacancy in the classroom,” said Michelle Dillon, St. Johns Education Association president. “I know we all pitch in, in an emergency situation, you cannot have an unsupervised classroom. But at the same time, these teachers are losing their valuable planning time. It is an added stress on them.”
Starting Thursday, the district is opening up for sub applicants for a six-day window. For more information, visit the district website.