WILLIAMSON – At a recent Mingo County Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Brandon Wolford, President of the Mingo County Educators Association, questioned the use of retirees in substitute positions.
In response, Dr. Richard Duncan, BOE Human Resources Director, explained substitute teaching hiring practices in Mingo County.
“There are basically three groups of substitute teachers. Some are certified teachers not yet in a full time job, some of college graduates who did not study education and are permitted only to be substitutes and some are retired teachers. There is no advantage given to one over the other, though we do generally try to match substitutes with the areas they have on their licenses if the substitute will be needed for more than just a day- to- day job. For instance, if a math teacher is going to be off for a week, we try to find a substitute who has math on their license.”
Duncan explains that the county struggles to fill substitute positions due to a shortage of qualified individuals.
“Many of the areas where we are struggling to find teachers are also the areas where we do not have licensed substitutes, so we cannot always match things up. We need teachers in Art, PE, Social Studies, Special Education, and Spanish. There are only a handful of substitute teachers on our list for most of these areas. Many of the substitutes we have available are retirees who are willing to teach until we can find a permanent replacement, and we are grateful to have those,” Duncan explained.
Duncan also explains that a substitute teacher is not considered “long-term” until they have been employed in the same position for longer than thirty days. Duncan argues that Sept. 22 is the thirtieth day of school in Mingo County. Therefore, no retirees can currently be listed as “long-term” substitute teachers.
Duncan said, “We sometimes hear folks refer to substitutes as long- term substitutes simply because there is no regular teacher hired in that position, but this is not what the law says. It turns out that today is our 30th school day, so tomorrow will be the first day that any substitute could be considered long-term and only if he or she has been in the same position all year so far.”
Duncan argues that the information Mr. Wolford presented at the BOE meeting was a mixture of misinformation and a section of the law that is not yet applicable.
Duncan states that the document that Wolford based his claims on was from the Office of Institutional Education Programs, which is an office of the West Virginia Department of Education that acts much like the central office for programs in juvenile detention centers and that Mingo County Schools does not fall under the jurisdiction of that office.
“We have our own local board of education to set policies,” Duncan explained. “Our policy regarding substitute teachers does not require that non- retirees be approached first for substitute jobs, nor that a log of this be kept. Instead, we use an automated calling system to track who is offered what jobs and when. Often, our system will call 50 to 75 times before finding a substitute willing to take a job,” Duncan continues.
Duncan also explains a second document that Wolford mentioned stating that a critical need plan must be in place before a retired teacher may substitute beyond 140 days. “This does not apply to retired teachers who serve as substitute teachers for fewer than 140 school days, whether day- to- day or for an extended period. Today is the 30th school day so we are nowhere near the 140 day mark,” Duncan states.
In response, Wolford argues that the state law indicates that a retiree must be used a last resort, regardless of if a critical need plan is in place and that some consistency needs to be in place regarding the placement of substitute teachers.
Wolford states, “These practices are not being closely monitored. There is a teacher at Burch Elementary who is certified and not retired but was not offered a job as substitute until the third week of school. It happened to her, and I am sure there are more. Long term positions may not be considered long term until 30 days are up but when they have been asked to fill a vacancy in which no other certified applicants are available, they are filling a long term position.”
“The point is, they are still calling retirees without regard to any specific policy. The major concern here is not so much the idea of placing retirees, as the inconsistencies my members are experiencing. By no means do I oppose the use of retirees, I am friends with many of our retired educators and they are wonderful people. I just feel as if there are people out there who need work and money that are young and just getting started. Some long- term substitutes have been called by principals and asked to fill the vacancies, while others have strictly used the call system to place individuals in long term positions. This process is monitored by a secretary at the board’s office. In one instance, the principal called one individual while the call system called another, so they had two individuals show up, both with intentions on filling the cancan until further notice,” Wolford explained.
Wolford further argues that the need for consistent placing saying, “It needs to be set in stone.”
Wolford questions who is in charge of placing substitutes and the ability of the call system to determine the qualifications of the substitutes that are called. Wolford asks, “Do principals fill vacancies or does the call system do it? I’m not speaking of short- term absences, but long term positions. Does the call system have the ability to distinguish one certification from another?”
One solution suggested by Wolford is that the BOE adopt a policy to create a consistency in the placement of substitute teachers.
“Since a county board policy does not exist, Mingo County Educators Association (MCEA) along with our affiliate, WVEA encourages our board members to adopt a policy which will establish some form of normalcy for our substitutes which will fairly place them into positions rather than picking and choosing who fills vacancies for a long period of time. Perhaps adopt the same policy as service personnel; place individuals based on seniority in substitute positions. A set policy needs to be in place to avoid the constant confusion,” Wolford said.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)