FRONT ROYAL — Warren County Public Schools joins divisions across Virginia dealing with a shortage of substitute teachers.

The School Board voted at its meeting Wednesday to increase pay rates with the hope that more money could attract substitutes.

Vice Chairwoman Catherine R. Bower and members Kristen J. Pence, Ralph A. Rinaldi and James S. Wells voted in favor of a motion to approve changes to the contract with a private company that recruits the division's substitutes. Board member Melanie C. Salins did not attend the meeting and work session.

The addendum increases the pay rates for substitutes who work a full day to $100; half day to $50; and long-term to $120.

Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said the division has difficulties finding substitutes and increasing pay rates may attract more substitutes.

Director of Personnel and Communication Shane Goodwin explained that the division, like many, faces a shortage of substitute teachers this school year. The fiscal 2022 budget includes the money to cover the increased pay rates, he said.

Administration officials requested that the board increase the rates to $100 for a full day; $50 for a half day; and $100 per day to long-term substitute teachers. ESS Northeast LLC, the firm contracted to recruit and pay substitutes, bills the division for the rates plus fees for each hire.

Goodwin said school officials talk with ESS every day and the company is trying to find the division more substitutes. 

“The pay rate that we had been paying folks to come and substitute in our school system just wasn’t competitive enough to keep folks busy, so they asked us to take a look at that,” he said. “In fact, when we increase the rate to $100, they feel like we’ll have better luck doing that.”

The administration needed the School Board’s approval to increase the pay rates by changing the contract with an addendum.

Surrounding school divisions pay $85-$120 to substitutes who work a full day, Goodwin said. Bower said even raising the county’s rate to $100 may not attract substitutes. ESS recommended increasing the full day rate to $120, but Goodwin said administrators wanted to be “fiscally responsible.” 

The division needs up to 60 substitutes on average for Mondays and Fridays and about 40 Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, Goodwin said. 

Bower noted that teachers and instructional aids have to fill in the gaps when a substitute would be preferred.

All schools are experiencing the shortage, Ballenger said.

Also at the meeting, the board voted in favor of a motion to approve 17 new instructional assistant positions, employed through June 2023, at a total estimated cost of $479,998 for the first year, prorated to account for the later start date of Sept. 16, and $551,990 for the second year. The estimated annual cost for each assistant is $32,470, although that is based on the pay scale grade for a highly-qualified applicant with 10 years of experience. Some hires might have fewer years of experience than used in the cost calculation.

Funding for the positions comes from a grant covering the cost through June 2023.

At the work session held after the regular meeting, the board:

• Saw a presentation on Samuels Public Library's proposed amphitheater. Members voiced support for the proposed project. The School Board leases the property eyed for the amphitheater, between the library and Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, from the county and must seek approval from the Board of Supervisors. The School Board did not take action on the item.

• Discuss possible changes to the board’s policies concerning the public comment period in regular meetings. Board members discussed the length of time they should allot at each meeting for the comment period, how long each person can speak and whether they should limit participation to speakers who live in Warren County. Members decided to revisit the topic at a future meeting with a full board present.

• Tabled discussion on how and when members are to contact the School Board’s attorney. Bower said she wanted the board to wait to discuss the topic with all members present.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com