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No substitute for good subs

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Posted: Monday, October 25, 2004 10:17 am | Updated: 5:39 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

October 25, 2004

Bob Garvey began substitute teaching two years ago after an informationtechnology company downsized him.

The 44-year-old Mesa resident signed on with the Tempe Elementary School District, and at $80 a day the pay is one-quarter of what he received as an information technology manager.

Despite the low pay, Garvey said, teaching is rewarding, and he is considering it for a career.

"I love teaching because it’s very self-gratifying," he said. "When kids say thank you, it makes the bad moments go away."

Garvey is among hundreds of substitute teachers needed daily to ensure learning continues in the Valley’s public school systems. From kindergarten to 12th grade, children have about 117 days of schooling by a substitute teacher, based on the average number of days regular teachers are absent per year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

East Valley school districts vary on what they pay and how they hire and train substitutes.

Substitute teachers must be certified by the Arizona Department of Education, and that requires a bachelor’s degree, fingerprint clearance card and $60 fee. The Arizona Department of Public Safety conducts state and federal background checks to get the clearance card, which costs $46 and takes three to eight weeks to process.

With the certification in hand, substitutes then apply to individual school districts. Hiring practices vary. Some conduct face-to-face interviews. Most have an application procedure that includes checking references.

Once approved, he or she is placed on a substitute list and and is in line to get assignments from an automated phone system.

"As long as they qualify, they can sub," said Karen Gasket, assistant superintendent of human resources with the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

All districts provide substitutes with some sort of orientation from giving them stacks of information to requiring them to attend a three-hour information session.

Verl Curtiss, a teacher at Grayhawk Elementary School, a Paradise Valley district school in Scottsdale, teaches a "sub boot camp" class at Arizona State University. The program began four years ago when a statewide shortage of substitute teachers prompted the Department of Education to begin issuing emergency certificates to people with a high school diploma but not a bachelor’s degree. Such certificates are still issued at the request of a school district.

Curtiss spends six days in the summer teaching people how to be effective subs. She gives the basics of classroom management and lesson planning.

"Retirees, people with bachelor’s degrees, we have many people who feel they need some kind of training," Curtiss said.

There are a variety of people filling in for teachers. Some are retired teachers, or retired from another field. Others sub for full-time, parttime or temporary employment, or while job hunting. Some are stay-at-home parents who sub at their child’s school.

East Valley substitutes are paid $70 to $85 per day. Districts pay more for assignments where substitute teachers are in the same classroom for more than four weeks, such as $100 per day in the Paradise Valley district and $163.50 per day in Gilbert.

"I try my best to get someone who knows the subject, knows teaching, and loves kids. Just because you have a piece of paper doesn’t mean you like to teach," said Sandy Cooper, executive director of human resources for the Chandler Unified School District.

The Chandler district has a pool of 350 subs to fill in for its 1,600 teachers. The district offers an incentive to its retiring teachers who have 15 or more years with the district. If they agree to substitute at least five days each year, the district picks up the teacher’s portion of the state retirement health benefits.

Also in Chandler, substitute teachers can get a $5-aday pay increase after accumulating a certain number of points earned by days on the job and training classes attended.

But monetary incentives are cost-prohibitive for some school districts.

Budget cuts forced the Paradise Valley district to cancel a plan where retired teachers could substitute at a per-diem rate of the salary they were making at retirement, significantly more than the district’s regular substitute pay of $80 per day.

Judy Fine, substitute coordinator for the Tempe Elementary School District, said she would like to offer pay incentives but the money is not available. Better pay might help her district — which lost 150 substitutes in the last year — to retain the temporary workers.

Fine attributes much of the loss to local job-market growth. When the economy is bad, school districts are flooded with qualified candidates, and when jobs are plentiful they scramble to fill their sub pools, she said.

"Last year they were coming out of the woodwork, and I was turning people away," she said. "Now I’m just now starting to build back up again."

But for some substitutes, it’s not about the money.

Scottsdale mom Denise Stalsberg began working as a substitute teacher in August after years of volunteering at her children’s schools.

"I’m up there teaching and interacting with the kids. I’m not doing it for the money, I don’t need to work, but this is my love," Stalsberg said.

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