Marion County Public Schools are expected to hire about 100 permanent substitutes as full-time teachers.
In an effort to cut spending, the school district started hiring first-time teachers as permanent substitutes beginning in 2008. These substitutes were paid $100 per day, but they did not enjoy the perks associated with being full-time teachers, such as health benefits, according to Dr. R. Craig Ham, executive director of the Marion Education Association (MEA), a teachers union.
In February 2013, the MEA filed a complaint with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission regarding the lack of pay and health benefits for permanent substitutes. A hearing officer dismissed the ruling at the end of June, but the whole commission ruled in favor of the MEA on Oct. 28, 2013.
“We anticipate if all the teachers, or many of the teachers [of substitute teachers] want to continue on a full-time capacity, it could cost upwards of $500,000,” said Kevin Christian, the public relations and communication officer for Marion County. “That’s certainly a significant amount of money. We’ll just have to look for it in the budget; we’ll have to cut back in other areas even more than we already have to allocate funds for them.”
Marion County Public Schools are operating at a level exceeding capacity, but Christian said this was done to save the district money. He said the fine for having overcrowded classes was less than what it would cost to hire additional teachers. Christian said that this tactic saved the district between $6 and $7 million.
Instead of saving money, the school district’s cuts have added to costs, according to Dr. Ham.
“You cannot merely retitle a teacher as a substitute and pay them less,” he said. “The district now will have to pay more money because they’re replacing these substitutes with real teachers.”
Currently, the district has about 100 permanent substitutes. Christian said he thinks most, but not all, will be hired as full-time instructors. Ham said that some may not be qualified to be hired.
“When they hire a regular teacher, those teachers have to be certified and highly qualified,” Ham said. “Certified under the state and highly qualified under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which most people refer to as No Child Left Behind. Some of these people weren’t even able to get certified because they didn’t have a bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject.”
While the school district will have to spend more money to hire the substitutes, Christian said the cost is a part of education.
“The positive would be that we’re going to have fully certified full-time teachers in those capacities. The downside is it’s going to cost the district additional dollars, which are additional taxpayer dollars,” he said.
The school district plans to make the hires by Jan. 16.
Virginia Hamrick and Melissa Walpole contributed reporting.