Friday, April 10, 2015

District take steps to outsource substitute teacher services | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

District take steps to outsource substitute teacher services | Philadelphia Public School Notebook:

District take steps to outsource substitute teacher services

Officials say too many classrooms are without adequate staffing. The move may bring nonunion teachers into schools next fall.

The School District of Philadelphia wants to hire a private company to provide substitute teachers, a move that it says will improve coverage while possibly saving money. It will also bring nonunionized teachers into schools. 
On Friday the District posted a request for proposal (RFP) seeking bids on a service to fill some 500 empty classrooms a day, or an average of more than two per school. Currently, said Naomi Wyatt, the District's chief talent officer, it is able to fill only 64 percent of the vacancies – a poor rate that can destabilize the school day and costs money besides.
Teachers, principals, and other school employees must give up preparation periods or regular duties to monitor the empty classrooms. Teachers earn personal days as payback for the lost prep time.
"We recognize that we need to improve the quality and quantityof substitutes available to all District schools," said Naomi Wyatt. "We are seeking a vendor that can provide high-quality substitutes at a 90 percent fill rate." 
Wyatt said the current cost of substitute service, including the need to reimburse teachers, is more than $18.6 million a year. The District also wants the contractor they hire to provide subs for other positions, including principals, secretaries, supportive services assistants, and cleaners.
For all but the cleaners, who are represented by 32BJ SEIU, the workers can be replaced by nonunion members. 32BJ has a clause in its contract preventing any outsourcing for the length of its current contract. However, the District wants the vendor to handle the logistics of finding and placing the substitute cleaners, who will remain District employees.
Now, substitute teachers are required to be members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and are paid according to per-diem and longer-term rates specified in the PFT contract. Daily pay can vary from $40 for an uncertified teacher to $180 for a retiree who has worked for 30 days in the school year. There are also long-term substitutes paid on a salaried basis.
Workers hired by a private company may or may not be unionized, Wyatt said.
PFT president Jerry Jordan did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Wyatt said that Philadelphia teacher attendance rate is "pretty good for a large district." The real problem, she said, is a shrinking pool of substitutes – now at about 1,000. The rule of thumb is that a district should have two-and-a-half to three times the number of available subs as there are daily openings.
"We don't have a large enough pool to cover our average daily openings," she said. "The second challenge is that frankly a lot of subs only want to go to certain schools on certain days for certain positions. A small number is flexible, who want to go often and will go anywhere. We hope the vendor will create a larger pool and find more people willing to go anywhere." 
Under the current PFT contract requirements, subs cannot be paid more for taking hard-to-fill positions, she said. A vendor might be able to change the compensation structure to offer incentives, such as a bonus for taking at least 10 positions a month. "We aren't structured to pay those kinds of incentives," Wyatt said. 
Plus, an outside firm can pay more attention to the logistics of recruiting, training, and placing substitutes, Wyatt said. There are only four District employees now handling all the paperwork around substitutes, and the requests to take assignments are done by robocall, not by a person who can form relationships. The companies "have people who all day, all they do is call up subs and encourage them to take positions, they work the numbers and work the vacancies," she said. The vendor would be encouraged from the current pool of subs.
Many subs are retirees, but state rules prevent the District from going to them except as a last resort due to concern about "double-dipping" – receiving a pension while getting paid District take steps to outsource substitute teacher services | Philadelphia Public School Notebook: