Substitute teacher shortage forces cancellation of in-person learning at Pueblo West High School

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PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. — In-person learning at Pueblo West High School was cancelled on Thursday due to a staffing shortage. Pueblo County School District 70 said 14 staff members were out for the day, and there weren’t enough substitute teachers to fill in.

“Some of my teachers have been subs for other classes in the school,” said freshman Cameron Heggie.

The district said the teachers who were gone for the day had prior commitments or were dealing with health concerns related to COVID-19. D70 typically has a pool of 200-300 substitute teachers to choose from, but that’s no longer the case.

“The number is really low, we are down to 100 in our sub pool and on a typical day we have 50-60 absences across the district,” said D70 spokesperson Todd Seip.

D70 teachers are also having to work overtime and fill in for other teachers during their planned periods. It comes as the district’s board of education recently approved to increase their substitute teacher pay. Substitute teachers can now make a minimum of $125 a day–an increase from $100. Daily rates can increase depending on level of education.

“We are having a hard time finding qualified people to substitute for us,” said Pueblo County Educators Association President Amy Spock. “It’s a combination…the pay, the workload these educators face.”

Nearly 50 faculty and staff positions are available at D70, but the district says their biggest concern is getting substitute teachers in their doors.

“We are at the balance point where we can keep things open but we need more substitute teachers to help us keep things open even through the fall,” said Seip.

Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association, released the following statement regarding the situation and is as follows:

Educators in Pueblo and across the state work every day to make every public school a place of learning and safety for students, no matter what neighborhood it serves.

But it’s becoming harder and harder to attract and retain high-quality educators because we don’t have what we need. We’re overwhelmed with excessive class sizes, outdated textbooks and paychecks that are so slim, they don’t even pay the bills. 

In addition to the lack of resources, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed so many of us over the edge, dealing with quarantines, remote teaching and students in academic and mental health crises. The extremely contagious Delta variant is putting even more pressure on the educators, including substitute teachers. Far fewer subs are willing to come into schools and potentially expose themselves to COVID, especially when the daily pay is so low – many have decided it’s just not worth risking their health.

We’re seeing educators leaving the profession because we just can’t do more with less anymore. Aspiring educators see this and decide against teacher training programs because the job is just too hard for not much pay.

With almost $10 billion owed to public schools in the past decade, it sure would help if our state legislators would stand up against the wealthy few and special interests groups siphoning money away from public education so we can attract and retain the teachers we need so every student can learn in an exceptional public school.

Amie Baca-Oehlert, President of the Colorado Education Association

D70 will resume in-person learning on Monday.

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