Substitute teacher hires questioned Report finds wide variations in how fill-ins put to work

$25 million statewide cost

Four counties require replacements to have bachelors' degrees

August 28, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Maryland education officials yesterday raised questions about the hiring of substitute teachers, who cost more than $25 million statewide each year -- but do not even need a college degree in most school districts.

In a report that provided more questions than answers, the Maryland State Department of Education found wide variations in how the state's 24 school systems hire, pay and classify substitute teachers.

For example, no district requires substitutes to be certified teachers, and only four counties -- Allegany, Garrett, Harford and Montgomery -- require them to have bachelors' degrees. Some others require degrees from a two-year college, or "some college" experience. Fourteen districts require only a high school diploma.

Meanwhile, a substitute can be considered short-term for up to 20 days in some districts, but long-term after only five days in others, the report stated.

Maryland's situation is similar to that in other states, according to national data included in the study, which state school board members requested in April. The board did not hesitate to send department officials back for more data about how schools cover teacher absences.

Board member Walter Sondheim, for instance, questioned the level of competence of substitute teachers, given the wide-ranging educational levels accepted by districts.

Board Vice President Rose LaPlaca was perplexed by data from Prince George's County indicating that the district uses an average of 644 substitutes a day -- almost 10 percent of its teaching force -- at an annual cost of about $7 million. "Something's wrong somewhere," she said.

And board member Morris Jones said he was concerned that, according to the study, only "some" districts trained substitutes in local policies and procedures. That, he said, should be a requirement.

"The one thing that surprised me is that the data that we collected generates more questions than answers," said Dr. Lawrence E. Leak, who presented the data.

Of the 37 states responding to the survey, 21 said they require substitutes to obtain a permit, license or certificate. But "the thing that we don't know is what a person has to do to get one of these," said Leak, an assistant state superintendent in the division of certification and accreditation.

Maryland requires fingerprinting and police background checks of substitutes, as it does for everyone working in schools. Three counties -- Calvert, Montgomery and Wicomico -- require that long-term substitutes at middle and high schools have course work in the subjects they teach.

Substitutes' salaries vary widely, according to the report. The per diem rate for short-term teachers ranges from $35 to $80, depending on education, experience and location. Long-term substitutes receive from $45 to $109 a day, according to the report.

Leak said his department did not compare Maryland's salaries to those in other states. Thirteen states require substitutes to have college degrees, he said.

The report also shows:

Howard County ranked third, behind Prince George's and Montgomery, in the amount of money spent on substitutes -- dTC $2.1 million annually for an average of 250 teachers a day.

Caroline County spends the least -- $125,000 annually on an average of 10 to 15 teachers a day.

Carroll County spends $1.18 million on an average of 125 teachers; Harford, $1.4 million on an average of 158 teachers. Baltimore County spent $1.29 million in the 1994-1995 school year but did not say how many substitutes it used.

Although all 24 school districts responded to the survey, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City did not provide data either on the average number of substitutes employed or the total amount spent on them.

Leak said his department was working on that data and would include it in the next "substitute teacher" report -- due to the board sometime in the fall.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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