Sacramento City Unified teacher vacancies mean hundreds of students are taught by substitutes

More than three weeks into the school year, several hundred Sacramento City Unified School District students are being taught by substitutes as school officials continue to look for teachers to staff classrooms.

The district estimates that about 46 classrooms have teaching vacancies, which officials said is normal for this time of year. But the Sacramento City Teachers Association said that there are about 100 certificated vacancies, including counselors and nurses. More than 1,000 students are being affected, sometimes being taught electives and required courses by substitutes who are not experienced in subjects like Spanish and art.

Math, science and special education positions are the hardest to fill, according to the district, both in Sacramento and statewide. Sacramento City Unified vacancies include six math teachers and five science teachers. Special Education has 14 vacancies.

Some Sacramento schools are seeing a high concentration of teacher vacancies, amid a nationwide teacher shortage.

Rosa Parks Elementary School held the highest concentration of vacancies. Six positions were still open in science, social science, and English classrooms.

C.K. McClatchy High School had three vacancies in English, biology and social science classrooms.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association estimated hundreds of students at McClatchy High are affected by the teacher shortage, and will be instructed by at least one substitute during their school day.

Lori Jablonski, a government teacher at McClatchy High, surveyed one class of 32 students during the first week of school.

“I asked [students] how many subs they had for three periods a day; 16 raised their hands. I asked how many had subs for four periods a day; four raised their hands,” she said. “Because these classes did not start with permanent teachers, no one at the school site has been leaving lesson plans either, as a permanent teacher would do when calling a sub.”

Since then, the high school has filled three math positions and an art class position. Jablonski said several Spanish classes are being taught by a substitute, but the position is not posted as a vacancy.

Substitutes take positions for a maximum of 30 days, and if a teacher isn’t hired, a new substitute is brought in. For special education classes, a substitute leaves after 20 days.

The district, which employs about 1,800 teachers, says that the school district is nearly fully staffed at 98 percent.

But the teachers union said the number of vacancies is much higher, because the official district numbers don’t include vacancies that haven’t been posted. Documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee show a total of eight vacancies at McClatchy High.

“Equity, access, and social justice begins with every student being taught by a fully credentialed teacher who reflects the diversity of our district,” read a statement from the teachers union. “(Emails this spring from an independent fiscal adviser blasting the district’s budget process) should have been red flags that signaled the need for immediate intervention. Instead of disclosing them and incorporating the much-needed reforms they advised, district leaders continued down a path that resulted in hundreds of unnecessary layoffs and precipitated a self-inflicted staffing crisis that was both predictable and entirely avoidable.”

District officials also said that many of the positions just recently became vacant.

Washington Elementary School opened an additional kindergarten class a week before school started, which required a last-minute vacancy. The class is being taught by a substitute today.

Nicole Gustafson’s daughter is in the kindergarten class adjacent to the new class. Gustafson said her daughter’s teacher and the substitute co-teach: one covers reading, and the other covers math.

“The kids have a relationship with both teachers,” Gustafson said. “I feel confident the other staff will make the experience go smoothly until they get a full-time teacher.”

Many vacancies are due to the district’s staffing practices. The district must offer teaching positions to teachers with seniority status before making positions available to others.

“Due to the high emotions associated with last year’s layoffs, it is understandable that some may view these numbers with more scrutiny than in years past,” said district spokesperson Alex Barrios. “While our overall staffing levels are normal for this time of year, district staff takes very seriously the need to fill vacant positions so that all of our students have a qualified credentialed teacher in the classroom.”

Andrew Jones, a former English teacher at Rosemont High School, was laid off in March. Jones was pink-slipped after his first year working in the school district. While his colleagues told him there was a good chance he could be rehired at a different school, Jones said he couldn’t take that chance. He and his wife just bought a home, and he needed the job security.

“I wasn’t surprised, since all the veteran teachers told me it would probably happen,” Jones said of the layoff. “The most frustrating part was after I was laid off, my position remained open, but because of bureaucracy and seniority, they offered the position to another teacher.”

Jones was offered another job in July as an English teacher at another Sacramento City Unified high school. But he had already accepted a job in May to teach in Natomas Unified School District.

“I don’t see myself going back,” he said. “One of the most telling things is that most of the new teachers had been pink-slipped, and they get pushed around in the district. I didn’t want to go through that stress for four or five years.”

The district stated that the recent layoffs were not a direct cause of the number of vacancies.

Sacramento City Unified is home to about 40,000 students, and is the 13th largest school district in California.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.