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Monday, March 19, 2018

Long-term subs help fill voids in district staffing

Glendive Public Schools

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Sometimes, teachers get sick, have babies, or have some other life event which prompts them to take an extended leave of absence from their jobs, or sometimes a school district just doesn’t get any applicants for an open teaching position. When one of these things happens, the most common solution is for the school district to turn to a long-term substitute. But just what are the rules for long-term subs and what is the impact of them for the district and for students?

“A long-term sub can be defined as many different things,” said Glendive Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis, noting the appellation can be applied to any substitute teacher who spends a consecutive week or more filling in for an absent teacher.

More specifically, however,  the term is used to designate a substitute who fills in for a regular teacher for more than 35 consecutive days. GPS currently has three substitutes who fall under that definition, Schreibeis noted, with another two possibly soon to be added with a couple of teachers about to go on maternity leave.

There is one big difference between subs who spend more than 35 consecutive days in the classroom as opposed to those who fill in for a week or two, and that’s that state law requires any substitute filling in for that long to be certified.

“After 35 days a teacher’s out, we’re required to put in a certified long-term sub,” Schreibeis said.

Except here’s the problem — substitutes with a valid teaching certification are few and far in between in Eastern Montana.

“That makes it difficult for a community like ours, because we don’t have a lot of subs who have a teaching license from the state,” Schreibeis said. “Like in Billings, most of their subs are probably licensed teachers because they’re trying to get a job with the district.”

The Montana Office of Public Instruction does provide a means to work around that specific problem, however. For long-term substitutes who lack certification, the district can apply for and receive emergency certification for them.

“We basically have to have that person we find apply for emergency certification with the state and then we’re good with accreditation,” Schreibeis said.

Once granted, an emergency certification is good for the remainder of the school year.

While the method is typically used for substitutes filling in long-term for a teacher out on leave, occasionally the district must rely on a long-term sub when they don’t receive any interest in an open position from certified teachers. 

“The whole purpose of it is to allow us to fill positions that are hard to fill,” Schreibeis said.

Such is the case with one of Dawson County High School’s two industrial arts teachers, who was brought in as a long-term sub at the end of last year to fill a position following a resignation. Schreibeis noted the district advertised for the position last summer in the hopes of bringing in a new full-time, certified teacher, but did not get any applicants. With the new school year starting and short a high school shop teacher, the district brought back the same long-term sub from last spring to fill the position for this academic year.

“We were able to get him recertified for this year to finish out the school year,” Schreibeis said.

He added that like any other open teaching position, the district strives first and foremost to hire a certified teacher, but when that fails, to serve the interests of the district and its students, they have to turn to a long-term sub with emergency certification.

“Our job is to find someone certified, but also to best serve the needs of the students and the school,” Schreibeis said. “And when (a certified teacher) can’t be found, our job is to find the best person we can who can teach our students to the standards we expect in this district.”

Schreibeis added that while he only has anecdotal evidence, he believes the use of long-term subs with emergency certification to fill teaching vacancies is fairly common in rural Eastern Montana.

OPI spokesman Dylan Klapmeier had little to add to the discussion. He pointed out the specific section of the Montana Code Annotated which grants school districts the authority to garner emergency certification for long-term subs and noted that most of the decisions concerning the use of them are handled at the local level. Klapmeier also said that OPI does not track the numbers of long-term substitutes operating under emergency certification and so cannot speak to how common the use of them is across Montana. He also added that OPI has no official position or guidelines for districts on the use of long-term subs with emergency certification.

“... OPI doesn’t have any statewide guidelines because the needs vary so much from district to district,” Klapmeier stated in an email.

Schreibeis said that as far as he’s concerned, the long-term subs currently working for the district are doing an excellent job of teaching the students under their instruction.

“I’m pretty happy with the people we have,” he said.


Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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