KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kelly Services, a staffing company that helps school districts staff substitute teachers, is seeing a concerning series of trends as COVID-19 cases surge throughout the Kansas City area.
"We have some school districts that are having more challenges than others. But in general, we typically run in...Kansas, Missouri, we're running about 80% fill rates right now," said Keith Elliott, regional vice president of Kelly Services who oversees operations in both of those states.
Recent data from districts on both sides of the state line track with the trend of staff shortages and a shortage of substitute teachers.
Kearney is reporting more than a dozen teachers and staff in quarantine, while the Shawnee Mission School District reports more than 70 staffers in quarantine. At Blue Valley's most recent board of education meeting, they said they had one day of 77 substitute requests, with 12 unable to be filled due to a lack of availability.
"As we moved into November, and cases have started to increase, we've seen a little bit more hesitancy from folks wanting to work," Elliott said regarding substitute teaching availability. "A decent percentage of our substitute teachers are retired teachers, which, as I'm sure you know, put some kind of in that more high-risk category."
Teachers may also be wary of the stress involved in the job.
"That's difficult to really convey how much stress there is put on the teachers and it's not just the substitute teachers, it's...the everyday teachers, the teachers that are being asked to cover additional classrooms or losing a plan period or different things like that that have made a change to the way they operate," Elliott explained. "I know I've heard other people say this too, and I feel like, you know, the healthcare workers out there, you know, heroes, frontline heroes, and I feel like our substitute teachers and the teachers that are out there, keeping the kids in school. Heroes as well. I mean really doing work that's important right now and, and yeah it is stretching them."
Elliott said the need for new substitute teachers is paramount during the pandemic.
"Missouri has recently added a new training program that allows teachers to or allows people to become a substitute teacher if they take an online training course that's 20 hours long. The focus is more on things like classroom management, how to de-escalate situations," he said.
Kelly Services also noted a 30% year-to-year decline in recruitment for substitutes, and Elliott noted that the pandemic has exposed another concerning national education trend.
"The pandemic has definitely had an effect on the teacher shortage because, again, it's driving down just interest in becoming a teacher in general at this point, you know, but prior to that there had already been challenges finding teachers," Elliott said. "A lot of our substitutes have been used in what we call vacancy positions, so if a school is not able to get a teacher hired in the full-time capacity then our substitute goes in and covers that job until they are able to get somebody hired. So we'll still have opportunities for subs, you know, if schools do go into that virtual environment, but they will be there will be less opportunities for substitutes if they do go that direction."