Clearfield School Board Debates Hiring Practices, Consideration of Long-term Substitutes

CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield Area School District’s Board of Directors debated its hiring practices and the amount of consideration given to its long-term substitute teachers during Monday night’s Education and Personnel Committee meeting.

Superintendent Terry Struble asked the board to consider approving a daily substitute teacher rate of $90. Of the districts sending to the Clearfield County Career & Technology Center, he said Clearfield had the lowest daily substitute rate at $80. Struble hoped the $10 boost would increase its pool of available substitutes.

He also asked the board to consider approving for substitute teachers to be paid a per diem rate equal to Step 1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, retroactive to the first day, after they have filled the same position for at least 21 consecutive days.

When asked, Struble said that although the district has outsourced its substitutes, it can still assign them when teachers provide advance notice of a long-term leave. However, when a teacher notifies of an absence the night before or the day-of, it’s deferred to an automated system that begins contacting available substitutes.

Board member Gail Ralston voiced concerns about the district using specialized staff, such as Title I teachers, to substitute. “I don’t like seeing them being pulled out; they are very important to teaching our children who are behind.”

Struble said last year the district had many retiring teachers who were taking off days in the spring. This year he said the district has a lot of new teachers and he doesn’t look to encounter the same scenario, which would help alleviate her concern.

Ralston said she wanted to make sure the district’s long-term substitutes received consideration for the long-term vacancies. She said the district needed to give more consideration to long-term substitutes who have provided “good and faithful service.”

Board member Rod Rishel concurred, saying he remembered many from when he taught at the high school. He said these long-term substitutes have a “track record” and many people attending the committee meeting could vouch to the quality of their service.

“I know sometimes money is an issue,” said Rishel, “but quality is, too.” Board President Mary Anne Jackson then asked if they wanted long-term substitutes to receive preference over the available retired teachers who have served the district for 30 years.

Rishel said he wanted the district to give long-term substitutes some consideration. He said it needed to look at the entire playing field and fill each long-term vacancy with the best candidate available from the substitute list.

Dr. Michael Spencer disagreed, saying the district needed to be careful about giving long-term substitutes consideration for long-term or more permanent positions. He said long-term substitutes have opportunities for positions and haven’t been hired, which should tell the district something about the candidate.

Rishel said it’s not “automatically” telling them anything. Board member Larry Putt then asked Spencer what it’s supposed to be telling them to which he replied that it’s not always in the district’s best interest to hire the long-term substitutes. The district, Spencer said, must be committed to hiring the best.

Putt said school board members needed to know more information about teacher and substitute candidates than “just a name” on the night of a meeting. “We didn’t know anything about anyone we hired this year,” he said. Spencer said that was partially due to the district’s hiring procedures.

Putt pointed out that a couple years ago, the district had a hiring committee, which he, Spencer and board member Susan Mikesell were a part of. He said the board was to receive the names of candidates in advance, so that its members could ask questions about them. “That has not been happening,” said Putt.

Spencer said when he was an administrator he walked the hallways and peaked into classrooms when substitutes were filling in. He wasn’t certain about the practices of the district’s current administrators but guessed there were “walk-throughs.” Spencer said “walk-throughs” probably didn’t occur often, as their administrators’ days are full.

Ralston countered, saying the district couldn’t base someone’s performance on a “walk-through” during which an administrator “peeked through a window.” She said the administrators needed to actually walk into the classrooms and observe what’s going on even if it was for a five-minute period.

Ralston said the district needed to work on its hiring policies and noted this wasn’t the board’s first discussion of the matter. Putt agreed, saying the board has been having ongoing discussions on its hiring practices for years.

Spencer suggested the board have Struble review the district’s past hiring practices and return to the board with recommendations.

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