UCS, WCS discuss new rules for substitute teachers

By: Eric Czarnik, Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published January 7, 2022

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WARREN/UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS/SHELBY TOWNSHIP — A new bill signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is designed to address a substitute teacher shortage by letting other trusted staff members serve in that role.

A press release from the governor’s office said that the new measures are “helping keep schools open and students learning in person.”

House Bill 4294 temporarily allows “trusted staff members such as secretaries, paraprofessionals, and others to work as substitute teachers until the end of the current school year.”

​​Warren Consolidated Schools Superintendent Robert Livernois has “mixed feelings” on the bill.

“On one hand, I appreciate the help in addressing the current shortage of teachers.  On the other hand, this bill is the result of the long-term disinvestment in education and the catastrophic failure of our state to support public education adequately and equitably,” he said in an email. “Teachers, administrators, and support staff face extraordinarily difficult challenges every day while responding to a seemingly endless list of ‘state requirements’ imposed upon them by a legislative process that rarely asks the people doing the work what they need to help children.

“Coupled with the obstacles created by the pandemic and the lack of teachers interested in the profession, this should be a wakeup call for everyone to lift up public education and support it and not create legislative loopholes to cover classroom shortages,” he said. “While I believe we have many support staff who are more than capable of managing a group of students, it is disingenuous to expect that they provide a day of instruction in accordance with what the state expects every other day of the school year from highly qualified, certified teachers.”

WCS officials are currently reviewing the implications of the bill with employee groups and have not yet made a decision if other staff members will fill in as substitutes. Officials are currently exploring the issue of how certain positions would be replaced temporarily if that staff member were used as a substitute teacher. According to Livernois, WCS has used more substitutes than usual because of COVID-19.  

“COVID has had a cascading effect on subs when our full-time staff are out due to exposure, quarantine, or managing their own families affected by COVID,” he said. “There has been a shortage of employees across all areas of public education, and until we recently increased our pay for substitutes, we were having challenges.”

Warren Con recently increased the substitute pay from $95-$105 per day, depending on the length of the assignment, to a starting pay of $140 per day.

Utica Community Schools Superintendent Robert Monroe commented on the new law, which comes amid a substitute teacher shortage and an expected increase in COVID-19-related teacher absences.

“Our focus is to always have highly trained individuals working with our students in the classroom at all times,” Monroe said.

“All UCS employees are skilled at providing services to students and families in the specific roles they have as part of our team. The shortages that we are experiencing impacts all job categories, and our employees are needed in their current roles focusing on what they do best — supporting the success of our students.”

Michigan already faced a severe educator shortage prior to the pandemic, according to Paul Liabenow, the executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association. “The pandemic has only exacerbated that shortage by further hindering school districts’ abilities to fill vacant positions and keep buildings open, placing undue stress on educators already working tirelessly every day to ensure all students in Michigan receive quality, in-person instruction,” he said in a press release.

“House Bill 4294 will provide districts with additional flexibility to fill substitute teaching vacancies so students can continue to learn in a safe, supportive environment.”

Whitmer said high-quality public education is a top priority.

“The pandemic has been challenging for our children, teachers, and parents, and our educators have gone above and beyond to ensure Michigan’s children have a bright future. Allowing schools to employ school staff that students know as substitute teachers will help keep school doors open and students learning in the classroom the rest of the school year. I am committed to working with the Legislature to develop high-quality solutions to address these staff shortages long-term so that we can ensure that every child is able to access a quality education.”