There were 68 teacher absences in the Lawrence schools on Tuesday, which put the district in a bind. In years past the substitute shortage wouldn't show up until there were 85 to 90 teachers gone, an official said.
Like many children, Alyssa Crenshaw headed to school Tuesday morning.
The only problem is, Alyssa is 21 months old and the school she attended was not a preschool.
Alyssa's mother, Deerfield School fifth-grade teacher Lucinda Crenshaw, was forced to take her small child to work when her child care provider called in sick. When Lucinda tried to find a substitute teacher, there was no one to call.
"That's the situation in the district," Crenshaw said. "There are no subs available."
Crenshaw's sister pulled through and picked Alyssa up for the afternoon, but she was in class for the morning session.
"Fortunately, my teammates are willing to allow the slight disruption," Crenshaw said. "We're trying to find ways to work around it."
It's not just inconvenient, it takes time away from the classroom, Crenshaw said.
"It does for everybody," she said. "I have to give my attention to two things and it's stressful for everybody."
Crenshaw's situation prompted Deerfield principal Suzie Soyster to hold an emergency meeting with teachers after school.
"We're talking about how we're going to deal with the problem," Soyster said. "Our school is more open (fewer walls) than other schools and our game plan is if a teacher has to be gone, her teammates would split the teams up. If it's a specials teacher, like music or gym, a regular teacher could cover for that."
That would mean teachers giving up planning periods and lunch times throughout the day to make sure students are receiving instruction, Soyster said.
"We're trying to determine if there's some other way to cover," she said. "We're trying to brainstorm with our PTA and Site Council to see if perhaps there are parents who would look after a teacher's child in an emergency situation if the child wasn't sick."
Soyster predicts that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
"The economy is better and we don't have as many people coming in for those jobs," she said. "Our problem is not unique."
Lawrence substitute teachers earn $78 a day for their efforts or $102 for a long-term assignment, and not just anyone can apply.
Only certified teachers can substitute without the supervision of another certified employee within the same building. Other substitutes are considered "emergency" substitutes and must have 60 hours of college credit as well as experience with children.
"By the state definition they're only required to have 60 hours of college credit but we go above and beyond that because we don't think it's safe to put someone who has no experience in a room with students and shut the door," said director of human resources, Marcia Bone.
There were 68 teacher absences in the Lawrence schools on Tuesday, and in years past the substitute shortage wouldn't show up until there were 85 to 90 teachers gone, Bone said.
"There are probably 200 substitutes on the list but the numbers on the list doesn't mean that's the number of people who are willing to sub that day," she said.
Other districts are also struggling, and Lawrence administrators are doing everything they can to combat the problem, Bone said.
"There are two avenues we have to pursue," she said. "We have to manage absences and recruit as many subs as possible."
Bone said the district remains committed to the students in it and will continue to work with individual schools to find a solution that is acceptable to everyone in the district.
"It probably will get a lot worse," she said. "We'll keep doing what we can."
For more information on applying for a position as a substitute teacher in the Lawrence School District, contact the District Service Center at 832-5000.
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.