How Substitute Teacher Shortage is Effecting Schools

By Matt Hoffman 

There’s rarely a glut of substitute teachers in Montana. Between the low pay and day-to-day nature of assignments, few view it as a long-term gig.

But a general shortage that’s persisted for years in School District 2 has worsened this year amid low unemployment, to the point that the district’s full-time teachers are trying to find solutions.

“It’s been approaching critical mass,” said Rita Wells, president of the Billings Education Association, the local teachers union.

The group has started a task force examining solutions to the shortage, from pay bumps to a streamlined application process to free coffee.

That the union, which doesn’t represent subs, has gotten involved is a nod to integral role of substitutes in maintaining the regular operations of a school without overtaxing full-time teachers and, in turn, costing the district more money.

Economists roundly agree that most labor shortages revolve around pay. SD2 shells out $75 per day for substitutes, with a $10 bump if the sub has a teaching license. Subs are required to have some college education.

“I think it’s a factor,” said SD2 superintendent Greg Upham, who’s worked with the task force. He said that a review of surrounding districts found that Billings paid in the “middle to lower-middle” range.

Wells said the committee has examined more incremental options than sweeping changes; things like providing lunch and coffee for subs or bonuses for consistent subs.

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