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Smaller applicant pools create difficulty for Olathe schools' hiring efforts

Beyond substitute teaching, the district is also looking to fill other roles that are critical to keeping schools running.

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Across Kansas, school districts have struggled to fill vacancies. The Olathe school district hasn’t been immune. 

Throughout the school year, USD 233 has faced a number of labor-related difficulties, particularly when it comes to filling substitute teacher slots and other classified staff positions. 

“This is a challenge we face every year as we address natural attrition, turnover, etc.,” communications and marketing manager Becky Grubaugh said in an email, “and this year we are continuing to address that challenge as we are seeing fewer substitute applicants than in years past.” 

That being said, the district has been able to fill its substitute teacher roster to its prepandemic level, but it hasn’t been easy with a smaller pool of applicants. 

“[D]istricts across the nation and in the KC metro area are all looking to fill vacancies for substitute roles, which means we are all likely recruiting from the same small applicant pool,” Grubaugh said. “Additionally, we are facing competitors in markets we have not necessarily faced before, as employment shortages are impacting multiple industries outside of education.” 

LOCAL SOLUTIONS 

Some school districts in the metropolitan area are increasing pay for substitute teachers. For example, earlier this month, the De Soto school district added to the pay rates for long-term and short-term substitutes. The Shawnee Mission Post reported that USD 232 now pays the most of any public Johnson County school district for substitute teacher positions. 

According to USD 233’s human resource website, long-term subs get $160 per day, while short-term subs get $133 a day. In USD 232, short-term subs get $7 more, and long-term subs get $15 more. 

In Olathe, the school district is trying to recruit licensed individuals to fill classified positions. In the fall, it hosted a job fair that Grubaugh said specifically sought out people qualified to work in support staff roles. 

There are other complications in filling substitute teacher roles and classified job positions, Grubaugh said. 

“We are also seeing a trend among substitutes who are interested in staying in specific buildings rather than being placed throughout the district as needed,” she said. 

WHAT HAPPENS IF A TEACHER CAN’T GET A SUB? 

In a situation where a substitute teacher is not available for a teacher who is absent or has to leave the school building for part of the day, Grubaugh said the district does everything it can to cover that teacher’s classroom. These situations are covered on a “case-by-case basis,” which usually means finding “coverage within the same building if a sub is not available.” 

During the November Olathe Board of Education meeting, superintendent Brent Yeager said school staffers are "abundantly willing" to fill in where necessary. However, he said, that extra responsibility can create "strain" for those who step up. 

“That could include administrators stepping in to cover a class, rotating teachers within the same building who have availability to help provide coverage as needed, or calling on classified staff members who have approved licenses to sub,” Grubaugh said. “If current certified or classified staff are asked to step in, they are compensated for the time worked in accordance with the negotiated agreement and/or hourly sub rate depending on the employee classification.” 

For part day absences, “depending on the situation, students could be divided up into other classrooms for the day within the same building,” she said. 

There is never a situation, Grubaugh said, where a classroom is left uncovered due to a teacher’s absence. 

“As a district, it is a top priority that we have a certified educator leading every one of our classes or a substitute teacher, administrator or fellow colleague who can help out in their absence,” she said. “Regardless of who is providing that coverage, we remain committed to providing high-quality and consistent academic experience for all students.” 

OTHER AREAS OF NEED 

Beyond substitute teaching, the district is also looking to fill other roles that are critical to keeping schools running, “including paraprofessionals, food service workers, custodians, office aides and secretaries, HVAC workers and warehouse support,” Grubaugh said. 

Information about employment opportunities is available here. 

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