Substitute teachers at Brainerd Public Schools will see a wage increase for the 2021-22 school year.
Those subbing for custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries, interpreters and cooks will earn higher pay as well. School board members approved the measure Wednesday, Aug. 25, after hearing about difficulties the district has faced in finding substitute staff members over the last 18 months.
Human Resources Director Angie Bennett told the board there are several reasons for the substitute shortage, including health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty of learning models and work expectation, wages and enhanced unemployment benefits.
“We had a lot of individuals who were just not interested in substituting in an environment where they weren’t really sure of their safety and they weren’t sure of the learning platforms, how they looked,” Bennett said Wednesday.
Substitute shortages cost the district extra, as regular teachers may have to miss prep times to take over duties, costing the district overtime, or the district may have to use subcontractors to fill positions, which can get expensive, Bennett said.
But the financial plight is not the only downside.
“In human resources, I’m always looking out for the stress and workload of our existing employees,” Bennett said. “When there’s not enough staff, it’s hard. It’s hard for our staff; it’s hard for our kids because our staff are stressed trying to meet the needs of everybody.”
The district is doing relatively well with teaching substitutes, she said, but the biggest areas of need are those custodians, cooks, clerical workers, interpreters and special education and transportation paraprofessionals.
The district normally reviews substitute rates annually and looks to other districts in the state and immediate region for guidance. Before Wednesday’s increase, the current rate for substitute teachers at Brainerd was $120 a day, compared to an average of $128.60 in Region Five and $136.35 in the state. Brainerd’s substitute paraprofessional rate was $12.65 an hour, compared to an average of $15.78 an hour in Region Five and $14.44 in the state.
State and regional data was not available for other substitute positions, Bennett said.
By increasing substitute wages, Bennett hopes to attract more qualified staff members.
“We know with our current environment and unemployment, everybody’s struggling to get workers,” she said. “And coming into a school district is appealing for some, but when you look at the wages that someone might make at Costco or Walmart compared to ours, it’s not too tough of a decision, unless you have a true passion for what we do, which is the folks that we want. But we also want to provide a rate that they can actually do substitute work because we all need them.”
The board approved the following increases Wednesday for substitute staffers:
Teacher — $127.50 per day, up from $120 a day.
Custodian and paraprofessional — $14.50 per hour, up from $12.65 an hour.
Secretary — $14.50 per hour, up from $13.75 an hour.
Interpreter — $20.36 per hour, up from $19.96 an hour.
Cook — $13 per hour, up from $11.20 an hour.
Long-term substitute teachers — those who sub for more than five consecutive days — currently earn $225.84 per day, based on the district’s wage grid for regular teachers. Because teacher union negotiations are still ongoing for 2021-23, that rate could change when negotiations are complete.
The estimated cost to the district for these increases is $110,000, based on substitute numbers from the 2018-19 school year, which Bennett said she used because it was the last “normal” year.
Board member Tom Haglin thanked Bennett for her work on this issue.
“Even what you’re presenting, in my mind, is not enough, but it’s in the right direction,” Haglin said.
“And I think we all know that,” Bennett responded, “and since I’ve been here, my push is really to start getting our wages up and really balance with the benefits. It’s a tough job because we have limits.”
In other business Wednesday, the school board:
Authorized new hires to the district: Benjamin Anderson, eighth grade geography teacher at Forestview Middle School; Andrew Freeman, family and consumer science teacher at Brainerd High School; Angela Holmstrom, second grade teacher at Baxter Elementary; Cole Mitchell, social studies teacher at BHS; Briana Sand, teacher at Baxter Elementary; Melissa Andersen, assistant cook at Baxter Elementary; Paula Anderson, special education paraprofessional at Lincoln Education Center; Conni Jo Bailey, assistant cook at Forestview; Megan Carlson, behavioral management specialist at Lincoln; Melissa Giles, special education paraprofessional at Lincoln; Claire Minor, building secretary at BHS; Richard Nelson Jr., special education bus paraprofessional; and Ciara Pritschet, event worker at BHS.
Approved a resolution granting property tax abatement for several Crow Wing County parcels to aid in district parking lot projects as part of the 2018 bond referendum.
Approved a contract with Central Lakes College for post-secondary enrollment option courses for the 2021-22 school year, allowing juniors and seniors with high enough GPAs to take courses at CLC for college credit. The cost to Brainerd is $243 per college credit hour per student, which is an increase from $236 last year. Vice Chair Charles Black Lance, who works at CLC, abstained from voting.
Approved a security officer service agreement with General Security Services Corp. for on-site security officers at Brainerd High School during the school day and for special events during the 2021-22 school year. The rate is $27 per hour and time and a half for any approved overtime.