By Brianna Hatch
Lexington City Schools want to increase pay for substitute teachers and aides to stay competitive with other local school districts.
Superintendent Rebecca Walters will present a market analysis of surrounding districts’ compensation to the school board Nov. 10. She hopes to have a mid-year increase into effect for substitute teachers by Jan. 1.
This would set the stage for a salary increase for paraprofessionals, such as teachers’ aides, and a larger wage increase for substitutes, for the next budget year.
“The tricky thing is, as we’re trying to make these increases, the other divisions around us are also making increases”
“The tricky thing is, as we’re trying to make these increases, the other divisions around us are also making increases,” Walters said. “So, it’s just a constant chasing game really at this point, just trying to keep up with others around us but also make it work within our budget.”
School Board Chair Tim Diette said that with overall prices rising in the economy, increasing compensation for substitute teachers and paraprofessionals is especially important.
“They’re much more sensitive to feeling the increased price of gas and groceries and all sorts of basic things,” Diette said. “So, I think it’s important to respect their dignity if we can. Both of those groups, just like all the employees of the school district, play an important part in the overall education of the kids.”
Lexington has already increased their substitute teacher wage twice in the last six years, Walters said. They now pay $80 per day. Rockbridge County schools pay their substitutes $100-$125 per day.
“I don’t know that we’ve necessarily lost substitutes to [surrounding districts], but we don’t always get as many substitutes to apply as we would like and I would think that has to do with salary,” Walters said. “When a substitute is looking at ‘I can substitute a mile down the road and make more per day than I can in Lexington,’ I would think that has to probably be a consideration.”
Pandemic still causing issues
Lexington Councilmember Chuck Smith, who also serves as substitute teacher for the city, said that the school district is recovering from COVID-19 and coping with the tight labor market. This is causing the school substitute teacher pool to be “pretty shallow,” he said.
“I can see why trying to get substitute teachers during [the pandemic] was quite a challenge,” Smith said. “And now that we’re coming out of that, and the labor market is changing quite a bit, the compensation for substitutes is becoming a bigger issue than it was in the past.”
Smith served as a long-term substitute teaching eighth grade science for four months during the pandemic. He thinks raising wages “couldn’t hurt” in efforts to recruit more substitute teachers.
“I think raising substitute pay would go a long way to deepen the sub pool, to maintain and recruit substitute teachers for Lexington City Schools,” Smith
said. “There’s only one way to find out [if it works], which would be to increase pay and compensate the regular substitute pool so that they feel more validated, and also provide some incentive for other subs to join.”
Walters hopes to increase the wage for substitute teachers to the Rockbridge County level by the next budget year for Lexington City Schools. But she also wants to take a step towards progress more immediately.
“Ideally, I would love to be able to look at making a mid-year increase, at least a nominal increase mid-year, to help encourage others to apply as a substitute,” Walters said. “And also, just to show our substitutes some appreciation for the work that they do during a challenging time.”
Lexington City Schools also has a vacancy for a paraprofessional position that they have been trying to fill this year. They filled one vacancy in October. All paraprofessionals in the district are assigned through special education, serving as support for students with individualized education plans that need accommodations or modifications.
Walters said this is the first year the schools have faced a shortage.
“I think it comes down to the fact that so many employers in other sectors are paying an incredible hourly rate,” Walters said.
Competition for best wages
Some nearby districts now pay paraprofessionals up to $20 an hour, while Lexington does not offer an hourly rate. Instead, it gives a starting salary of $14,100 that can be raised to the mid-$20,000 range for the 183-day contract position.
“It’s hard to compete with even your fast-food outlets now that they’re paying more by the hour,” Walters said.
Lexington’s salary for paraprofessionals is more comparable to Rockbridge County and Buena Vista schools than their pay for substitute teachers. But increasing it is still a priority.
“[Paraprofessionals] are working directly with some of our students who have special needs and do an incredible job of that,” Walters said.
Diette said that the school board would raise wages during this school year only if they are able to afford it within the existing budget.
“Sometimes there can be cost savings from a whole range of things, like supplies that don’t cost quite as much as you expect. We normally try to build in a little bit of flexibility for this sort of situation to arise,” Diette said.
He sees this as a “pretty manageable” situation.
“The increases we’re talking about represent a small overall share of our budget. While certainly personnel costs are a big share of substitute teachers and paraprofessionals, we don’t employ that many of them,” Diette said.