The Folsom Cordova Unified School District has a substitute problem.
Teachers regularly gravitate toward jobs serving affluent Folsom neighborhoods. But too often, they avoid positions in Rancho Cordova, where most students live in low-income households and campuses tend to be farther from where substitutes live.
For the third straight year, Folsom Cordova has tried to entice teachers to work in Rancho Cordova by offering higher pay. Last month, district trustees boosted that daily rate to the highest level ever – $140 in Rancho Cordova schools, compared with $115 for working in Folsom.
“That has been a concern for the last few years,” Trustee Zak Ford said. “When I’ve met with teachers, they have voiced to me that it is a challenge to get substitutes throughout the entire region and the district, but particularly in Rancho Cordova. It creates challenges to our existing staff because then they have to cover the classrooms of their colleagues” unless principals and vice principals fill in.
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“We have to address the shortage districtwide,” Ford said. “But we are aware that within our district, the larger challenge is Rancho Cordova.”
That means Rancho Cordova students are more likely than those in Folsom to end up crammed into another classroom or learning from administrators. In a pinch, some elementary schools divide a class down the middle and send each half to other classrooms for the day, according to school officials.
Districtwide, the need is large. Folsom Cordova has about 1,050 teachers in 32 schools. And so far this year, the average weekly requirement for substitute teachers has ranged from 366 in September to 310 in November. Typically, all but a dozen or so jobs are filled each week.
Substitutes replace full-time teachers who have to leave their classrooms for training sessions, professional development time or if they are sick.
California has a teacher shortage, so more substitutes are serving in long-term roles. As the economy has improved, districts have faced fierce competition with each other to hire substitutes.
At another Sacramento County district serving a wide range of communities, San Juan Unified pays more to substitutes who spend at least three-quarters of a working month at a Title I school serving high-poverty students. San Juan spokesman Trent Allen said substitutes who cross that threshold receive $150 a day, up from $110 a day for shorter-term jobs.
The Folsom Cordova district has 12,282 students in Folsom, and 11 percent of them financially qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The district’s other 7,505 students are in Rancho Cordova. A far larger share of those students – 71 percent – qualify for subsidized meals.
Substitute teacher Jamie Hall, 50, said she spent half of her school years attending Rancho Cordova campuses and recognizes that many substitutes feel most comfortable working at schools in familiar communities. Hall regularly takes substitute positions in Rancho Cordova schools.
In Rancho Cordova, “basic needs are sometimes not met because of the socio-economic challenges that many children have,” Hall said. Some students may come to school hungry or without proper clothing or jackets when it’s cold. As a result, they may be unprepared to learn.
“When you’re hungry and cold and didn’t get your homework done, it’s hard to focus in the classroom,” Hall said. “That happens more in Rancho Cordova than it does in Folsom.”
Students in Folsom, on the other hand, also can present challenges. They may be more demanding. And parents may feel more empowered in dealing with teachers, Hall said.
Substitute teachers say the disparity in where they work also exists for other reasons: Substitutes live in Folsom or the foothills and would prefer a shorter commute or like to teach in neighborhoods where their children attend school.
“A lot of people I talk to live in Folsom, El Dorado Hills or Rocklin,” Hall said. “So going into the more urban areas is a commute.”
Hall, who who lives in El Dorado Hills, said she substitutes for schools throughout the region, from Carmichael to El Dorado County. But she’s rethinking some of those jobs as the Highway 50 traffic worsens.
“I’m getting to the point where Rancho Cordova is the farthest I’m willing to go,” she said. “It’s 15 minutes without traffic and an hour when the traffic gets crazy.”