Pay change could affect instruction

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Long-term Sub Plan: Solution or Disaster?

By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – Last year, the Bullitt County Public School System spent over $497,000 to long-term subs under the current pay scale.

But there is a proposal for the next year which would shave $190,000 off that figure.

However, school board officials aren’t sure if they are willing to give up the educational experience provided by long-term subs, especially those who are retired teachers, just to save money.

That complex issue is facing the five members of the Bullitt County Public School Board and the matter could be voted upon at the May 20 meeting.

(Due to the Memorial Day holiday falling on the normal meeting date, the board will gather at the central office tonight at 6 p.m.)

Under the proposal unveiled recently, long-term subs would be paid $99.53 plus $50 per day for “responsibility” factor.

Over the past year, there were 36 long-term subs.

A long-term substitute is defined as working more than 20 days on a single classroom assignment. Unlike most counties, the higher sub pay has been retroactive to the first day of the assignment. Others will only begin paying higher pay after the 20th day.

Superintendent Keith Davis said the decision is simply a matter of where to spend the limited dollars by the district.

The per-day pay ranged from $346 to $192.94 for the long-term subs.

In looking at other comparable districts, Davis said Bullitt County is not out of line in its proposal. The one thing in common is that most school districts are having to tackle this issue.

As part of the board’s proposal, Davis said there are options, which would include making the responsibility pay either $75 or $100 per day.

More than the money issue, board members wrestled with the issue over how would the change affect the children.

Board member Dolores Ashby said she talked with five principals and three said making the change and possibly losing experienced long-term subs would hurt education. Another mentioned putting a cap on the sub pay and another had no real opinion.

Having a stable substitute with experience for a child’s classroom over a long period of time is important, said Ashby. But she was also concerned about the possibility that greed might be part of the malcontent over the possible change.

She added while other counties are cutting teaching positions, Bullitt County has not. 

During the recent board workshop session, retired educator and long-term sub Beth Vachon didn’t hold back on her comments.

First, she was hurt by the “greed” comment by Ashby.

Overall, she said it would be a mistake to make major changes.

“I think it’s a terrible mistake to underestimate the value of retired teachers,” said Vachon.

A retired teacher who is returning to the classroom knows the expectations and pick up with the lessons.

“There is no lapse for the children,” said Vachon.

She is proud of her 30 years in the classroom and feels that she earned her pension. She also feels there is no shame in coming back and being compensated for her experience.

“I do love the children,” said Vachon, whose husband is also a long-term sub. “I am worthy of a decent salary. It’s not greed. It’s pride.”

Vachon added that teachers went without pay increases for years and she wasn’t even eligible for step increases since she had reached the maximum.

The situation is too “raw” for Vachon to comment on whether retired educators would stop working as long-term subs. She wasn’t even sure what she might do.

Plus, she said the school district shouldn’t be concerned about why the retired teacher is serving as a sub and where they spend their earnings.

With that being said, several board members said that it isn’t the cost savings that would determine their final decision.

Chairman Tim Wiseheart said if education suffers, then would it be worth the savings?

At the same time, he said there are teachers, like any profession, who are out there for the paycheck. 

Davis said that some long-term subs are probably more valuable than others but that is not part of the equation. Like Wiseheart, he said there are different level of employees in any profession.

Ashby said long-term subs are normally lined up by principals because they know the quality of the instructor and they want them in their classrooms.

The concern, according to Ashby, is that the district would lose the services of the many valuable long-term subs. The district has a substitute list of over 500 teachers so finding someone to fill in has not been mentioned as a problem.

Board member Darrell Coleman said the issue is something being addressed across the state. And he said it is a difficult decision but he felt the substitutes should earn at least what the regular teacher is making each day.

Davis said that any changes to the current policy would be left up to the board members.