IPS eliminates substitute teacher crisis almost overnight

Indianapolis Public Schools had a sub crisis for years.

At many of the city’s schools, a single teacher calling in sick long meant classrooms thrown into disarray. Without enough substitutes, classrooms were merged or broken up so that teachers across the school could take on extra students.

But, suddenly, the district is reporting that the sub crisis is virtually gone, wiped away just months after bringing on a private company to recruit and place substitute teachers.

The fix is expensive — IPS could spend as much as $1.35 million for under four months this year — but district officials say it’s worth it to make classrooms saner for students.

Since hiring the Wisconsin-based Parallel Employment Group to provide substitute teachers in late February, the district’s classroom fill rate, meaning the percentage of classrooms that have a substitute teacher on duty, has jumped to from under 50 percent to 89 percent, according to Mindy Schlegel, the chief talent officer for IPS.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said school board member Kelly Bentley. “It’s working.”

Part of why the contract is so expensive is because of its success, Schlegel said. The district initially approved just $500,000 for the substitute contract but the school board voted last week to bump that up to $1.35 million since so many more substitutes are being hired than before. More subs means more money since the price includes the substitutes’ pay.

The contract has been so successful that administrators suspect it’s increasing the number of teachers who are calling in sick. According to Schlegel, the number of teachers who missed work in April rose 30 percent this spring as compared to last year.

“My guess is that people have much more faith in actually being able to call in and having a substitute show up in the building,” Schlegel told the board.

Until bringing on Parallel in late February, the district provided its own subs. The contract with Parallel includes the rate that the district was already paying substitutes — anywhere from $75 to $150 per day, depending on their credentials and experience — and an additional 36 percent administrative charge. That charge could add up to as much as $350,000 this year.

The cost is expected to go down as the substitute pool changes because Parallel will pay new educators at lower rates, ranging from $90 to $115 per day.

But even at the current price tag, district leaders say that it’s worth the money to have consistent substitutes.

“We don’t believe maintaining a low fill rate is a reason to save dollars,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “We want to ensure there’s an adult that can fill in when there’s a need for a substitute.”

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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