EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Menominee Area Public Schools Committee of the Whole discussed the possibility of raising the daily pay for substitute teachers Monday, as well as finding solutions to the current shortage of substitute teachers in the area.

Superintendent John Mans said that currently, other nearby school districts pay substitute teachers $110 per day. “Marinette and Peshtigo are at $110 right now. It’s really up to the board to think about, is it worth throwing some money out there to get some more (subs), because it certainly is a big issue for us. It may just create a bidding war, but what are you going to do?” he said.

Board Secretary Becky Thoune asked how many subs are in the buildings on any given day. “If you’re talking about Mondays and Fridays, you’re looking at a pretty significant number. If you’re looking at the middle of the week, it’s not as significant. But on Mondays or Fridays, it could be seven or eight per building, so we’re talking about a lot of substitute teachers,” Mans said.

He said the schools are currently opting to use paraprofessionals who meet the 60-credit requirement to fill in the substitute teacher positions when they are needed. “We’re getting them annual sub permits, so they end up leaving their role as a parapro for that day and end up subbing because they’re eligible to sub. We’ve scrambled the egg about every way you can to try to get people in places to make sure our kids are taken care of. We need more subs,” he said.

Mans said this issue is more widespread than the Menominee schools. He said the Marinette and Crivitz school districts have had issues brought on by a lack of substitute teachers. “It’s the same deal everywhere, but am I averse to increasing the fees? Hey, if it works, I’ll do anything, he said.

Board Member Hunter Mans said the board took a look at the same issue about four years ago. “When we took a look at it then, we found out that throwing money at the problem really isn’t going to help a lot. We raised it $20 then, I think it was $75 per day at that time, and now we’re up to $95. I think a more important thing we need to find out is the source of the problem,” he said.

He said what he thinks the board will find is that the pay rate isn’t so much the issue as is the number of people who are able to serve the area as substitute teachers. “There’s not enough people; It’s not a highly sought-after job by a ton of people regardless of the pay, and especially this year. I have a few friends of mine who sub or used to sub who have said, ‘I’m not stepping foot in a school this year; you could pay me $300 a day and it’s not going to help,’ so there’s also that battle,” he said.

He said his biggest concern is that if the board were to simply increase the pay now, in another few years they’ll be back in the same position they’re in now with no real solution to the shortage of subs.

“When I spoke with Marinette,” said Central School Principal Randi Ahrndt, “they said that they haven’t raised it; they were having big issues with finding subs also, but they did raise their consecutive day pay. Subs that were working in positions longer than a certain amount of days would receive more, so that’s something I would consider also.”

“My background would tell me that we should be doing something like a 5-Why, and who would be doing that? Would we be doing that with a long-term sub that we’ve had to see why are people not coming on as subs? Would we go to the principals and ask them what they think the reason is? Somehow, we have to drill down to the bottom,” said Board Vice-President Dawn Wesolowski.

Hunter Mans said the best option he could see would be to have the superintendent and the administrative team find the right people to ask. “It could be the principals, it could be the long-term subs; I think if our leadership group and administration spearheads finding the right people to ask, they can have an in-depth conversation with them. I’m sure they have a better pulse on the situation than we do,” he said.

“I think we have to do something, so I’m okay with letting John spearhead this, but we can’t just drop it from here,”Wesolowski said. “We have to keep going, otherwise our principals are, in their words, putting this puzzle together, and maybe they don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle.”

Hunter Mans said they could discover in a month that they should increase the rate, but he said it would be premature to increase it now.

“If the market bears $110 a day,” said Board President Derek Butler, “if that’s what we’re really talking about, if an extra $15 gives us an even playing field in regards to finances—we’re only talking about six miles between these districts—that’s our baseline. We’re also in a people industry; we have to thank these people for what they’re doing for us. They come in and try to take over a classroom for a day, which personally would scare me to death. My recommendation is, if $110 a day can swing three subs a week, that’s a minimal cost and it shows that we’re trying to do everything we can at least to be market-neutral.”

Superintendent Mans said he would need to speak with the leadership team about what they think should be done. “I don’t know that they have the answer; I think if they had the answer about what exactly there is to do, they would’ve done it before. This is an issue for them at least every Monday and Friday, sometimes even the middle of the week, too. When we upped our ante last time, it didn’t seem to make a difference. We’ve been really creative about what we’ve done, but I think we have to have an enriched conversation about this. If we’re going to throw money at it, we don’t match what they do, we try to up what they do,” he said.

“Can we have something for a board vote this month? I think it’s an important issue and it’s something we’re struggling with, and nobody here is opposed to helping financially. I’m just saying I think it’s urgent, and every one of the principals mentioned it, and we are willing as a board to support you. So however much time you need, we’re here and ready to help you,” Butler said.