Butte School District No. 1 is searching for substitute teachers.
In the administrator’s meeting Tuesday morning, Human Resources Director Therese McClafferty hit the district leaders with numbers: There are four people with a current Montana teaching license and 55 that have passed at least 60 college credits on the district’s substitute teacher list.
Of these substitutes, only three licensed and 28 non-licensed fill in for missing teachers on a consistent basis — that’s about half of the list.
“It helps for our administrators to understand these numbers so they don’t wonder why we can’t fill for teacher absences,” McClafferty said Tuesday afternoon.
According to McClafferty, the district advertises for substitutes through its website, as well as with newspaper and radio ads. Despite their efforts, McClafferty said they’ve struggled for the past three or four years with having enough people on their substitute list.
“We consistently advertise and put out calls to state universities, but people are not willing to move here without a permanent job offer,” McClafferty said. “We have our hands tied.”
Last Friday, there were 39 absences, with nine spots unfilled, McClafferty and her colleagues said. The Friday before, there were 51 with 17 unfilled. Many of these absences were fall sports-related.
When there aren’t enough substitutes to fill teacher absences, McClafferty said schools improvise. In elementary buildings, sometimes counselors, reading coaches or principals fill in. At the middle school and high school, teachers will combine classes, or deans and counselors act as substitutes.
Substitute shortage isn’t just a problem in Butte public schools or the state of Montana — 2016 federal data collected by the U.S. Department of Education shows there have been teacher shortages across the country for over a decade.
In Montana, there aren’t many state requirements for substitute teachers. According to the state’s Substitute Teachers Rule, located in the Administrative Rules of Montana, non-licensed subs must complete at least three hours of approved training, have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and undergo a fingerprint-based background check. Butte School District No. 1 also requires its non-licensed subs to have at least 60 college credits, and other districts in the state have similar additional requirements in place.
McClafferty said her colleagues often reach out to retired teachers for help. They also reach out to students at Tech who have Fridays off, a day when many teachers are absent. In Tuesday’s meeting, she stressed the need, saying she doesn't know what to do next.
“We don’t know how else to increase attendance and our substitute list,” McClafferty said to district administrators. “If you know of anyone interested, please let us know.”