Teacher Shortage Has Districts Scrambling

Superintendents Turn to Private Company for Substitute Staffing

In an effort to address their shortage of substitute teachers, Metro Detroit schools are enlisting the help of Kelly Services, a Fortune 500 temporary employment agency with 1,800 offices in 19 countries.

The Troy-based agency has established the Kelly Educational Staffing program, which will advertise open positions in both public and private schools, interview applicants, and train substitute teachers for grades K-12.

"The program is win-win for everyone," says Teresa Setting, director of Kelly Services Product Management. "With one call to their local branch office, school administrators can find the substitute teachers they need."

Kelly Services conducts background and reference checks on each applicant to ensure that its substitutes are qualified. Candidates also must meet local certification requirements.

Additionally, Kelly provides the substitutes with a handbook and other orientation materials.

"Because our expertise is staffing, Kelly can find and manage more eligible candidates than schools can alone," Setting says. "Our orientation process and quality control measures, developed with the schools, ensure [that] only the most qualified substitute teachers end up in front of children."

Schools that take referrals from Kelly must enter into a contract with the agency as well as pay an administrative fee for each substitute that Kelly locates for them.

"Initially, it will cost the districts more," Kim Osborne, a spokeswoman for Kelly, told the News. "But in the long run, they will see savings."

"The Kelly program is worth it in terms of time savings alone," adds Carlos Hicks, superintendent of the Gulfport, Mississippi, district where Kelly first provided substitute service in 1997.

Kelly Services locates more than 750,000 employees each year for a wide range of jobs. The agency provides benefits to its temporary employees, including paid vacations and flexibility regarding choice of workplace.

The shortage of substitute teachers in metro Detroit mirrors a national problem. Although an average 96,000 teachers nationwide are absent from school each day, there are not enough qualified substitutes to meet this demand on a regular basis. Surveys indicate that over 90 percent of the nation's school districts struggle to locate substitutes.

Some districts even have resorted to hiring parents or people with no more qualifications than a high school diploma.

"The main goal is often to get a warm body in there," Max Longhurst, an education specialist with Utah State University's Substitute Teacher Institute, told USA Today.

The shortage has arisen because many substitutes have taken full-time positions or have quit teaching altogether. Additionally, the strong economy has presented substitutes with more lucrative opportunities.

"I'll try anything and anybody who can find substitutes for us," Sue Kenyon, superintendent of Dearborn Heights District No. 7, told The Detroit News. "We have been short of substitute teachers every day this year."

Several districts in Michigan also are providing additional economic incentives to attract substitutes. The Warren Consolidated School District, for instance, increased pay for non-certified substitutes from $68 to $72 per day, and certified substitutes received a boost from $72 to $76 per day.