4 school districts combine to attract substitutes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — With a growing shortage of reliable and willing school substitutes, the Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Gorham school departments will conduct a combined hiring fair next week.

“This is the first time the four districts have done anything like this,” Kathy Germani, assistant superintendent of schools in South Portland, said. “It comes from a discussion last spring about hiring and the difficulty we were all experiencing when filling positions,” especially those other than teaching positions.

Germani brought the idea for the job fair to the Cumberland County Superintendents group, which agreed to “field test (the idea) with a smaller group. So, the four districts agreed to work together … this fall,” she said.

“Having good substitutes working in our buildings is incredibly important to our schools and the children we serve. It is also an incredibly rewarding way to give back to your community while earning a few dollars on the side and building up those resumes,” the four school districts said in advertising the upcoming substitute fair, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1, from 9-11 a.m., at Husson University, 340 County Road, Westbrook.

Applicants for classroom substitute positions must have had at least two years of college or at least 60 course credits. All substitutes should also have at least some experience working with kids, and must pass a background check, including fingerprinting. Those interested should bring a current resume, two forms of ID and fingerprinting approval. Those who haven’t been fingerprinted can apply that day.

According to the four districts, substitutes can earn up to $85 a day.

Administrators from all four districts said this week they’re unsure why it’s so hard to find substitutes, but Germani said, “the low unemployment rate certainly contributes.”

They hope being able to offer employment in more than one school district may be attractive to potential candidates.

“When the unemployment rate is low, less people are looking to substitute. We thought this (joint fair) might attract more people and Scarborough is excited to be part of” this effort, Jo Anne Sizemore, assistant superintendent in Scarborough, said.

While most people only think of the need for classroom teachers in terms of substituting, Germani said, the fact is “everyone we employ plays an important role in making our schools run. People see and understand that we need teachers in front of kids, but I am not sure that they think about what happens when a bus driver calls in sick.”

“You might be able to cover a teacher if you are in a pinch, but driving a bus requires a specific license and a level of skill that most people do not have. The same is true of a nurse. Some of our students have significant health needs that go beyond what our office staff and administrators are trained” to provide, she said.

The Cape Elizabeth School Department is hoping to attract interested registered nurses, for example, to to its own substitute information session on Oct. 6, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., at Cape Elizabeth Middle School.

Germani said that while each school district handles substitutes a bit differently, most work hard to provide proper training and support, as well as making sure substitutes are fully aware of important school policies, especially those dealing with student safety.

School districts across the region are in need of substitutes for all sorts of positions. Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Gorham schools are holding a joint substitute fair on Oct. 1.