Schools in Dayton have to scramble to serve students when the combined number of unfilled jobs and absences exceeds the number of available subs. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Photo: JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Dayton schools’ staffing issues affect hundreds of kids daily

Staffing contractor struggles to handle DPS’ significant increase in request for subs.

Because of chronically unfilled jobs, as well as staffers on leave or out sick, Dayton Public Schools had to request an average of 135 substitute teachers and aides per day from Parallel Employment Group for the three-month period of February through April.

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Parallel, which contracts with DPS to run its substitute teacher and aide program for $3 million per year, filled an average of 106 of those spots a day, which would leave, on average, 29 educators’ spots uncovered daily, affecting hundreds of students. Those numbers fluctuated wildly — from only two spots unfilled on Feb. 5 to 91 unfilled on April 26, according to data confirmed with both DPS and Parallel.

Last month, Dayton teachers union President David Romick said Parallel had not met the fill rates required in its contract, and Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said Parallel had not been as successful at filling spots as in previous years.

But a Dayton Daily News review of the data shows that Parallel is exceeding the terms of its contract — which requires a 95 percent fill rate for up to 90 teachers and 15 aides per day. By filling 106 per day for the past three months, Parallel is just over 100 percent of the highest possible contract requirement (105 spots).

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Tammy Rosenberg, COO of Parallel’s education division, said the problem is that DPS’ number of sub requests has risen dramatically in the past two years. She said even factoring out this year’s substitute aide requests (a newer service for them), DPS requested over 2,000 more substitute teachers from August-March this year than they did in the same period of 2016-17.

“What makes it difficult is the peaks and valleys. If you average filling 111, you can usually keep a pool working of 30 additional subs,” Rosenberg said, adding that because of low unemployment and high need, if she doesn’t keep subs working, they’ll go to another district. “What makes that difficult is when you jump from 111 requests one day to 192 the next. It’s so hard to handle that ebb and flow.”

The base problems

Romick and Lolli independently said the staffing shortages are linked to both hiring struggles on the administrative side and a need for better attendance from teachers in the Dayton Education Association.

“There’s been a push not only for student attendance … it has come to the teacher side as well,” Romick said. “DEA is supportive of good teacher attendance. That’s what the work demands. You have to think about the way it affects the kids. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s what’s important. … But life happens (for teachers) too, and that’s got to be understood as well.”

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Lolli said DPS is prioritizing both hiring and attendance. The school board’s strategic plan includes a goal of increasing staff attendance by 5 percent. A board discussion April 30 showed agreement on the need to “recruit, screen, hire, develop and/or reorganize” needed staff.

The three schools whose staffs are being “reconstituted” for this fall had a rule that only teachers with 95 percent or higher attendance could apply. And teachers at those schools who continue to meet attendance and test score-growth markers will be eligible for bonuses.

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“You need to be here in school every day for these buildings to function and to serve the children that are here,” Lolli said. “As we continue to change the culture in buildings, and change who we hire, I think you find that the commitment will be there.”

DPS is restructuring its Human Resources department, and Lolli said recruiters are currently out looking for “high-quality candidates who want to be part of a great change we’re making.”

For years, DPS has struggled to fill all of its teaching positions, having to rely on long-term subs in dozens of cases most years. School board member Jocelyn Rhynard said Friday that DPS has about 50 full-time positions currently vacant. With fewer education majors coming out of colleges today, DPS recruiters are competing with suburban districts that pay more, have higher-scoring kids and are located in lower-crime areas.

Lolli said she hopes if the district can make academic progress, some of that “will take care of itself.”

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“A lot of the positions that we have struggled to find are hard-to-fill positions across the state. There’s just a shortage in those types of teachers,” she said, referring to math, science, foreign language and special education. “Some of the work we’ve done in HR is about upgrading the expectations of who we look at, who we interview, who we hire. I think that will make a difference for us as well.”

DPS also is accepting vendor bids right now for its next substitute-staffing contract, raising the number of sub placements required per day from 90 to 110. Rosenberg confirmed Parallel is bidding for the job, and cited their over-100 percent fill rate on the current contract.

Daily adjustments

When a class is “uncovered,” Romick said those students sometimes are doubled up with another teacher’s class, or split up among multiple classes. That’s what happened April 29 at World of Wonder elementary, when severe teacher shortages led some students to call their parents and ask to be picked up. DPS had 192 requests for subs that day districtwide, and Parallel filled 125.

But most of the requests at World of Wonder went unfilled. Rosenberg said when there are more requests than available subs, those subs choose the jobs they want — avoiding schools they like less.

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“Our sub pool, we have about 272 in the list, but they’re not all available every day,” she said. “Some only want to work at certain schools, or want to teach elementary grades only, or high school only. Some only want to work a couple days a week, or they work in multiple districts. Some are only available fall or spring because they’re snowbirds.”

Several parents spoke out at the April 30 school board meeting — some calling for better teacher attendance, some saying administration’s frequent staff reassignments have hurt schools, and others saying the substitute operation is ineffective.

“The district’s inability to provide quality continuous instruction to our most vulnerable students is unacceptable,” said parent Jo’el Jones, who unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2017.

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Lolli said schools have other approaches to handling uncovered classes, too. Some schools will pull a Phonics or other “special” teacher in to handle the class for a day, meaning that staffer’s normal work goes undone. Others will cover the class with a different teacher each period, having them teach or monitor the class on what is scheduled as their “planning period.”

Lolli acknowledged none of those situations are ideal, and that the revolving-door approach can make students feel neglected.

“It’s an extremely significant (impact),” she said. “When you don’t have the same person every day, the relationship isn’t built, and those relationships with students help learning. … That’s what the research says.”

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