Rae C. Stedman Elementary School. (Photo/KFSK)

The Rae C. Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg announced it would temporarily close four classrooms if the school couldn’t find substitutes. As of Monday, the positions were filled. But as Angela Denning reports, the shortage could still affect the rest of the school year.

The classroom closures would have come in February and March and would have affected both kindergarten classes, a first grade classroom, and a second grade classroom. Most were for a few days but one was for over a week.

The teachers had requested leave but no substitutes could be found. That’s been an ongoing issue district-wide. With eight positions open, there aren’t many subs to choose from.

“It’s a lean pool so it’s really a problem,” said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter.

She says the sub shortage stems from a lot of reasons. There is a shortage of workers locally, statewide, and nationally. And she says the COVID pandemic is also a factor.

“We have some people who have said, ‘I will not come in and sub if we don’t have 100 percent masking’ or ‘I’m reluctant to come in because even with masking, the omicron variant is so transmissible I don’t want to end up getting it. Even though I’m vaccinated I don’t want to miss a trip,’ you know, which we understand, I mean, I get it,” Kludt-Painter said.

Kludt-Painter was speaking on the monthly radio show, Campus Connection. She says even with the shortage, Petersburg is more fortunate than some other districts.

“We do have a really good retired teacher sub pool,” she said. “And they’ve been amazing.”

But that sub pool is already being tapped for some maternity leave coming up.

Part of the solution for the district has been going public with the leave days, after asking staff if it was okay. The district has announced the dates on the radio and elsewhere looking for coverage for certain classrooms.

Being a substitute teacher typically requires a bachelor’s degree, especially in the higher grade levels. The position has different rates of pay, including $140 a day for those with a teaching certificate and $100 a day for others. Kludt-Painter says the school district is willing to train people.

“Even just come up and do some shadowing, check us out, come talk to us about it, if you’ve ever even thought about it, don’t just shut the door,” said Kludt-Painter. “If people are out there and interested or they’ve had other sorts of training and job experience that might help them be suitable for something like this, we are willing to have those conversations with people.”

School Board President, Sarah Holmgrain says there are some perks to the job because the subs are not required to do all that teachers do like staff meetings, grading papers, and writing lesson plans. She says it also allows someone to test the waters.

“To me in some ways [it’s] a toe dip into the school district,” Holmgrain said. “You know, we do have openings, is it something that I might want to work for the district? Well, maybe start out as a sub and see if you like the culture and the environment.”

If there is a classroom closure in the future at the elementary, the school plans to have online learning available for students during the closure.