Six months after Columbia Public Schools chose a new company to provide substitute teachers, the full-time teachers say the system isn’t working.
Kathy Steinhoff, a Hickman High School teacher and president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, said a lack of substitutes has caused extra stress for teachers. She said she has seen teachers be denied time off for illness or professional development.
Jessica Tierney, a teacher at Two Mile Prairie Elementary School and president of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, said she has been reassured that the district and EDUStaff LLC, CPS’ new substitute staffing provider, are actively recruiting and increasing pay for substitutes, but she doesn’t see this as a short-term solution.
“Teachers are just like every other person in the workforce,” Tierney said. “Things come up: illness, family emergencies, illness of their own kids, doctors’ appointments.”
The Columbia School Board unanimously awarded the staffing contract to EDUStaff LLC in March. EDUStaff, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company, took over from Kelly Services on July 1. Kelly Services had worked with the district since 2012. EDUStaff’s contract will be in effect through June 30, 2022.
According to Chad Bilkey, national development director for EDUStaff, the company has 250 active substitute teachers in the Columbia Public School District, and the ideal number would be “at least double that” for a district this size.
Michelle Baumstark, district spokesperson, said the substitute shortage is a normal challenge of building a reserve of substitutes within a new company. She said the district’s goal is to grow the number of substitutes so they can cover for full-time teachers beyond the usual daily demand.
“We are filling the basic day-to-day needs,” Baumstark said. “The current issue, which will be resolved once the pool is increased with the new company, is having a large enough pool to be able to do large district-wide department professional development trainings.”
Bilkey said that EDUStaff has been running its typical recruiting and marketing campaign in Columbia. The company has placed ads on Pandora and local radio, and a billboard will be unveiled Monday on Providence Road. EDUStaff has recruited 75 active substitute teachers so far that were not previously employed by Kelly Services through its on-site classroom training sessions. Bilkey said that those training sessions have been full.
Despite actively recruiting and marketing, the company doesn’t know when it will be able to staff the ideal number of substitute teachers, Bilkey said.
CPS is the first district EDUStaff has worked with in Missouri. Bilkey said that applicants must meet local certification requirements before they can be hired. The Missouri Department of Education requires an FBI and Missouri Criminal Background Clearance as part of the state licensing process.
Steinhoff said she was initially optimistic about the switch to EDUStaff because she respected the company’s previous accomplishments. Now, though, she said she’s disappointed the company doesn’t have a reliable pool of substitute teachers at this point in the semester.
“It’s also creating a more difficult job for our subs,” said Steinhoff.