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January 20, 2022

The worker shortage has also affected employment at West High, especially making the process of finding substitutes more challenging. The process of finding a substitute is done through a program called Frontline which allows teachers to input when and why they will be absent. The program then alerts substitutes in the area about available jobs, which they have the option to pick up. Secretary Michelle Minikus is in charge of coordinating substitutes at West High.

“When [the positions] are unfilled, that’s when we have a problem. So that’s when we have two building subs … and I will put them in the unfilled positions, but usually, sometimes two is just not enough,” Minikus said.  

When the substitutes from the area and the building substitutes cannot cover all the open positions, Minikus has to start thinking outside of the box. Each teacher has two open periods, which for Minikus means two periods that a substitute for one class can be pulled into another. 

“It turns into a giant puzzle,” Minikus said. “Let’s say I don’t have enough of those pieces to fill. Then we have to go within the school. So then I’m looking at other people in the building before I use a teacher. It takes away from the learning of all [the students].”

Despite trying her best to avoid it, Minikus has had to pull teachers away from their prep period several times this year due to the shortage of substitutes. However, she is optimistic the new building substitute will help decrease this in the future. 

“Because of the shortage, they allowed us to hire a third building sub,” Minikus said. “I feel like things are going to be so much better here.”

An even greater challenge than finding substitutes for regular teachers is finding them for paraeducators, a role the school is currently short on according to Assistant Principal Molly Abraham. She has had three paraeducator positions open for a while, and received just three applicants, only one of whom was qualified enough to be offered the job.

It’s just gotten very hard to find paras and that partly is because we don’t pay them enough

— Molly Abraham

“It’s just gotten very hard to find paras and that partly is because we don’t pay them enough,” Abraham said. “They are frontline people for us. They are right there with kids all day long. It’s a really valuable job, but we pay around 14, maybe a little more, dollars an hour.”

Most of the budget for special education comes from money given to the district by the state, so increasing funding is difficult. Besides preventing the school from raising wages, this tight budget has caused issues with resources.

“We tried really hard to get every [paraeducator] a chromebook and couldn’t make it happen,” Abraham said.

Abraham worries that the low wages, lack of school resources and the eight to 10 weeks off in the summer without pay discourage some people who might otherwise become paraeducators from taking the job. Substitute paraeducator is another role that is difficult to fill. 

“It’s hard to find [substitute paraeducators] — that’s a hard role to be in,” Abraham said. “You might get [to school] and your assignment is to go to seven different classes with kids you don’t know and they don’t know you.”

The school ensures the needs of each special education student are met every single day by shuffling around paraeducators, substitute paraeducators and pulling in other people when necessary, but the situation is not ideal.

“Who gets short-changed? Ultimately, the kids if we’re trying to move people around and we have somebody working with somebody they don’t know,” Abraham said.

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