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Another View: SCTA is helping solve substitute teacher shortage

Substitute teacher Lowell Cosgrove helps student Mackenzie Evans take an online reading exam at Sheridan Elementary School in Sheridan last month. Several Sacramento-area districts are having trouble finding substitute teachers.
Substitute teacher Lowell Cosgrove helps student Mackenzie Evans take an online reading exam at Sheridan Elementary School in Sheridan last month. Several Sacramento-area districts are having trouble finding substitute teachers. rbenton@sacbee.com

A recent article on the difficulty some school districts have finding substitute teachers does a good job raising the profile of an issue that has been a concern for Sacramento City Unified teachers. Less constructive, however, is the subsequent editorial (“Solving substitute teacher shortage,” Feb. 27).

The Sacramento City Unified School District has been proactive in its approach by significantly increasing the pay for substitutes to $176 a day after a sub has worked five days in the district. That increase, the result of collective bargaining, is an example of the district and the Sacramento City Teachers Association working together on a real problem.

The editorial is yet another demonstration of blind antipathy to teachers and teachers’ unions. Ignoring the detailed explanation behind the substitute shortage, the editorial cites a limited study from last year and suggests that the real culprit behind the shortage is teachers who miss too much work, particularly those in Sacramento.

While we appreciate that SCTA and The Bee’s editorial board may not see eye to eye on a variety of education issues, we are concerned that it could take such a gratuitous shot at hardworking teachers without thoroughly researching the issue, let alone considering our point of view.

We would have pointed out several factors. First, we share with the district an interest in maintaining a growing and vibrant substitute pool, and have worked to boost pay to achieve that goal. Second, since many teachers enter a permanent teaching position by first working as a substitute, we also work with the district to recruit the best new teachers. Third, we all recognize the benefits of having teachers consistently in the classroom, which is why we have been advocating that the district reduce the number of absences it initiates that require the use of substitutes.

Many of these absences, particularly for professional learning opportunities, might be reduced by offering the training prior to the school year or after school. Others that are less useful could be eliminated altogether. This is another area where teachers and the district should be able to reach common ground.

As the editorial notes, “like most things related to public education, the reality is much more complicated.” We agree. Let’s hope ideological biases don’t serve to cloud that complexity.

David Fisher is first vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

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