Rural school district works to combat substitute teacher shortag - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Rural school district works to combat substitute teacher shortage

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WASHINGTON COUNTY (KWWL) -

Winter break is just around the corner for students in the Mid-Prairie school district and as the semester ticks down, school officials hope teachers can stay healthy because it's becoming harder and harder to replace them.

Mid-Prairie serves over 1,200 students in the surrounding areas of Kalona and Wellman. Like many schools in the state, they have found it more difficult to find substitute teachers for the district.

To combat that shortage, the school district recently voted to increase substitute wages from $120 a day to $135, the first increase since 2012. The increase puts the district above the $125 a day larger districts like Iowa City and Washington offer, becoming the highest in its surrounding area.

"We have to pay at the upper end of the scale in order to persuade teachers from the Iowa City-area to come down to Mid-Prairie to substitute," Superintendent Mark Schneider said, in terms of being a more rural district.

Schneider said on a weekly basis, the schools won't have enough substitutes to take the place of a teacher who either became ill or is dealing with a family issue. Instead, they have to take teachers from other programs such as Title One Reading or special education. At the secondary schools, different teachers have to cover the classrooms during their off-periods.

"All of that takes away from the student. We want everyday to be a positive learning experience for every student at Mid-Prairie and when you have to shuffle teachers around it just means the teachers can't do as good as job as they could otherwise," Schneider said.

He hopes the timing will also help attract new December graduates from the University of Iowa's School of Education, but in his 17th year as superintendent, Schneider said he believes the issue comes from an even larger one.

"I do believe there is a teacher shortage in the state of Iowa just in the regular classrooms which obviously leads to a shortage of substitute teachers. The reasons for that are very complex, they're not simple but everything that we do kind of has a factor into it whether we're looking at the amount of resources for public education, whether you're looking at teacher's retirement system," he said.

Over the years, Schneider said the district has seen fewer applications for open positions.

"In an elementary opening, I'd get 200 applications and now if we get 50 or 60 applications for an elementary opening that's doing well," he said. "You can see the pool of available people has gone down."

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