Board President Venessa Whitener voted to cut the substitute teacher budget at the same meeting where she voted to create a new director position at the district office. Both are funded from the same source.
During the March 4, 2014 board meeting, Whitener pressed to have the high school substitute teacher allocation cut. She touted that the cut was only 10% of the sub allocation, but failed to mention that the allocation was already only 75% of what is actually required during a single school year.
Board members Denise Standage, Kim Anderson and Jake Hoffman all separately petitioned to remove the sub allocation cut from the proposed budget cuts, but Whitener persisted, stating that she would rather have the surplus cushion in the budget than remove the sub budget cut.
The board vote, led by Whitener, resulted in $30,000 being removed from the high school substitute teacher allocation for the 2014-2015 school year. At the very same board meeting, the board approved the creation of a new director’s position at the district office for Cort Monroe, whose new salary would be $93,000. The sub budget and funding for the new director position come from the same source.
What impact does it have on the classroom when a paid sub is not available? Each school creates their own plan for managing teacher absences without adequate substitute teacher funding. Some schools provide substitute teachers for the first three quarters of the year until the sub allocation is exhausted, and then simply do without. Other schools ration the inadequate funding so there are gaps throughout the year.
When a teacher is absent, for illness, or a wedding or a funeral or legitimate vacation time, there are a few options for covering the unattended class in the absence of adequate sub funding. Classes can be split and students dumped into neighboring classes, making for at least 45 students in neighboring classrooms, without adequate chairs or desks. While providing an adult in the room, this strategy creates a hardship on the students and the teacher. In lower grades, often the specials teachers or special education teachers are tasked to cancel their regular curriculum and step in to substitute a general education class. Students are then without art, music, physical education, library or special education. General education teachers are without the planning period they would have while students are scheduled to be elsewhere. In the case of being non-complaint in providing special education services, the school and district are at risk for being fined or sued. And students with special needs go without the help they need for a successful school day.
In upper grades, teachers are expected to donate their planning period to cover for the teacher who is absent. District teachers have come forward to share that there are times when classrooms full of students go without supervision for the hour because there isn’t another teacher available to cover. For the teacher who is absent, there is no peace of mind that his or her students have a consistent lesson across different class periods or that there is even an adult in the room. For teachers who are covering the class for a peer, they have lost their hour to prepare. For students, their learning environment has been compromised. And parents, who trust the superintendent to provide for their student’s learning and safety, are under-served.
Across the district, on any given school day, one can find all of the above occurring. Parents are growing unhappy as they become aware of the impact on students and teachers when a substitute teacher is not available. Many families are pulling their children out of Higley schools. Teachers are choosing to leave the district.
Board president Whitener stated before the vote that on budget-cut surveys provided for teachers to complete, the majority (48%) chose cutting the sub budget above the other options provided. This does not mean that teachers felt this was the best option overall. The superintendent controlled what options were made available for cuts, all of which impacted the classroom, and then instructed teachers to prioritize from the list provided. As one teacher responded on the survey, “It’s as if you are asking me if I’d rather cut off my right hand or my left!” Surely teachers would prefer protecting the classroom and cutting costs elsewhere, like at the district office.
Reducing the substitute teacher allocation is the very worst place to cut. If Higley is truly student focused, and hopes to retain its best teachers, then they need to fully fund the substitute teacher allocation.
Video of the March 4, 2014 board meeting can be viewed on www.HUSD.org, under the board meeting tab select ‘watch meetings’. Discussion on the sub allocation begins at 1 hour 18 minutes, with the final vote occurring at 1 hour 28 minutes. The announcement of the new director’s position is at the end of the meeting.
Whitener is up for reelection this year and is the only incumbent running along with 3 others. GSInfo recommends you strongly consider Rebecca Jarman and Michelle Anderson as a sound alternative. You can vote for 2 as there are only 2 seats available this election cycle.