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Nov. 26, 2021

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Ridgefield schools face critical substitute shortage

District authorizes hiring of emergency subs, boosts pay amid COVID issues, growing student population

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
5 Photos
Substitute teacher Alison Davies, left, holds the door while leading second-graders back to their classroom at Union Ridge Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. A rapid increase in the student population has forced schools in Ridgefield to create additional classroom spaces, like the one seen above.
Substitute teacher Alison Davies, left, holds the door while leading second-graders back to their classroom at Union Ridge Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. A rapid increase in the student population has forced schools in Ridgefield to create additional classroom spaces, like the one seen above. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Ridgefield School District has authorized the hiring of emergency substitutes to combat a significant shortage of available positions in the district.

According to district officials, a “confluence of factors” contributed to the shortage, namely COVID-19 protocols that require school employees to stay home if they are exhibiting any sign of illness and a dramatic increase in student population.

These emergency authorizations are allowed when no more regular certified substitute teachers are available, per state law.

The shortage has forced many teachers to sacrifice their preparation periods that they use to craft lesson plans, grade assignments or even eat lunch to cover other classes that may not be subjects they typically teach. Administrators, too, are having to step in to monitor or lead classes at times.

Outside the classroom, other school positions are feeling the pressure of the shortage just as heavily, said Kalin Heath, a human resources specialist in Ridgefield School District.

“It creates stress for our secretaries who have to figure out the coverage,” Heath said. “In the morning when it’s busy with students and parents arriving, this issue adds another layer to an already busy morning.”

In a county with so many different school districts, Heath said Ridgefield regularly struggles with attracting substitutes because they are forced to compete with larger districts like Vancouver Public Schools or Evergreen Public Schools.

“We realized we needed an extra incentive for subs to come to Ridgefield,” she said. “A job of a sub is not easy, in regards to sometimes coming into a classroom they don’t know. We wanted to take that into account.”

The emergency authorization approved Nov. 8 will pay substitutes in Ridgefield an increased rate of $173.81 for a full day and $114.76 for a half-day; the district previously paid workers $167.50 for a full day and $101.50 for a half-day.

Additionally, once a substitute has worked 25 full days or 50 half-days, they are qualified for a further enhanced rate of $192.01 per full day and $126.60 for half-days.

Applicants must have a fingerprint background check and adhere to the state-mandated COVID-19 requirements such as wearing masks and providing proof of vaccination or approved exemption.

While emergency substitutes must possess a bachelor’s degree, those applying to work as paraeducator subs only require a minimum of 72 college-level credits or proof that they’ve passed the ETS ParaPro assessment. Due to the shortage, applicants are granted an extended period of two months to pass the test.

As an incentive, Ridgefield School District says it will also cover the $82 out-of-pocket cost that aspiring substitutes pay when they apply.

“We’ve had shortages across the board, both teachers and paraeducators,” Heath said. “We’re really eager to get more subs in here.”

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