Employment agency says substitute teachers are declining jobs in Lawrence due to low pay, requests pay increase

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

An employment agency says the Lawrence school district’s low pay for substitute teachers relative to surrounding districts is causing some substitutes to decline jobs in Lawrence.

The district uses daily substitutes as needed and also contracts for long-term substitutes through the employment agency Morgan Hunter, which requested that the district increase its pay to address the issue of substitutes declining jobs. The district shared the agency’s request with the school board this week. Angela Hunt, Morgan Hunter program director for education, said the agency has been hearing from its employees about the topic and that informed the request.

“We have had several tell us, ‘We’ve worked here for so many years and haven’t had an increase in quite some time,'” Hunt said.

The Lawrence school district currently pays daily substitutes a rate of $105 per day and long-term substitutes a rate of $130 per day, according to a staffing report provided to the Lawrence school board on Monday. That equates to $13.13 per hour for daily substitutes and $16.25 for long-term substitutes, if assuming an eight-hour workday. Morgan Hunter recommends the district increase its daily and long-term rates of pay by between $5 and $15 per day.

Hunt said the recommended increase would bring Lawrence more in line with the pay provided by surrounding districts. She said with the exception of two districts in Douglas County that are considerably smaller, the Lawrence district has the lowest rate in the area. She said a more typical rate for the approximately 30-mile radius around Lawrence, which includes Johnson County and some Kansas City suburbs, is around $120 or $130 per day, meaning Lawrence’s rate is about 14% to 24% lower than what’s typical.

Hunt noted that prices are going up everywhere, and Morgan Hunter made the request because it had been some time since the district’s last pay increase and the agency wanted to ensure compensation for its employees was keeping up.

“We just want to make sure that they are getting paid for the hard work that they’re doing,” Hunt said.

The request from Morgan Hunter will ultimately be another budget consideration for the school board. Apart from daily substitutes, there are 11 certified positions currently filled with long-term substitutes through Morgan Hunter.

Regarding challenges finding substitutes to work in Lawrence, district spokesperson Julie Boyle said the district continues to monitor its substitute fill rate. Boyle said the district has not seen it drop much below 80% lately, unless there have been extenuating circumstances, such as a large teacher training. As to whether the district plans to raise substitute pay, Boyle said any increase would be evaluated alongside other district financial needs as part of the budget process, which includes the recently formed Futures Planning Committee.

“The district has previously discussed the need to increase substitute teacher pay,” Boyle said in an email. “Much like other district needs, it has become part of a larger conversation our school community continues to discuss about how to best balance student needs and district goals and priorities with the limited resources available.”

Boyle said that as part of a six-month community engagement process related to the committee’s work, the district would conduct a public survey in October and host two public input sessions in January. She said the committee’s recommendations would ultimately go to the board in February.

Mention of the request from Morgan Hunter was included in the staffing report, which also included information about the number of classified and certified resignations, vacancies and current staffing levels. The district currently has 31 teacher or other certified staff vacancies. There are currently 114 classified vacancies, which represent a 17% vacancy rate. In addition to the 11 long-term substitutes contracted through Morgan Hunter, another 20 special education and special education support positions — consisting of 14 certified and six classified positions — are filled through various other contracted services, according to information the district provided the Journal-World.

Apart from substitute pay, unions representing both certified and classified staff have been advocating for pay raises for their employees. About $1.9 million of the $6.4 million in budget cuts the school board approved for this school year were to provide raises for district staff, an amount that fell short of union goals. More than 200 teachers resigned or retired last school year, and Monday’s presentation also included information from exit interviews, where pay was the most frequently cited issue by respondents, as the Journal-World reported. The union representing classified staff has also recently said low pay is contributing to the high vacancies in the district, which are in turn affecting students.

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