Lynn school officials: Substitute teachers should be paid at a higher rate

Joseph Keane has been a substitute teacher in the Lynn Public Schools for 15 years and hasn't seen a rate increase during that time. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Joseph Keane hasn’t seen a pay increase in the 15 years he’s been a substitute teacher in the Lynn Public Schools.

The former trial attorney has unsuccessfully tried several times to get a full-time teaching position in the district, and is now focusing his efforts on reactivating his law license and switching back to his legal career.

Keane, 63, a Lynn resident, said pay has remained the same for subs during his tenure, “despite a heart-filled and effective effort, where all is given to the students.”

“Even the principals are complaining they can’t get substitutes because the pay is too low,” Keane said. “(An increase) should be brought up as a priority. You’re only talking $20, $25 a day (more) for how many subs. If we took one week off, it would be chaotic. There would be no one to fill in for teachers. They couldn’t have meetings.”

There’s a shortage of substitute teachers in the Lynn Public Schools, reflecting a statewide trend. As the district struggles to entice qualified candidates, school officials agree: substitute teachers should be paid at a higher rate.

Substitute teachers in the district get paid a daily rate of $75, which is lower than some surrounding communities. With a substitute working about 6.5 to 7 hours during the school day, that rate comes out to less than the state’s $12 per hour minimum wage.

Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said increasing substitute teacher pay has been discussed since the day he set foot in Lynn, but couldn’t pinpoint why it hasn’t been a priority in recent years. Before starting as school superintendent in August, Tutwiler was the district’s deputy superintendent for three years.

“It deserves attention because there’s a shortage and part of the solution is around pay,” Tutwiler said. “The tug and pull of higher paying jobs are out there for qualified candidates. So, there’s less of a pool to draw from people who have a degree and want to spend a day in the classroom for $75. They can get (another) job making much more.”

In addition, Tutwiler said subbing is not an easy job. “It’s not easy to walk into a classroom of 25 kids who don’t know you and you don’t know them and try to pick up where the teacher left off,” he said.

One aspect that’s “screaming for attention” is that a substitute teacher’s aide, or paraprofessional, makes $25 to $57 more per day, based on level of education for a seven-hour day, than a substitute teacher in the school district, according to Tutwiler.

“It’s out of order,” he said. “Paraprofessional substitutes shouldn’t be making more than teacher substitutes. That’s not to diminish the importance of that worker. But a teacher’s sub has (more responsibility).”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said she’s had one teacher tell her that he or she was not going to become a substitute teacher, but would instead opt to become a teacher’s aide sub since it pays more.

“It’s frustrating to me,” Gately said. “We want quality substitutes. We just don’t want placeholders. I think it’s urgent. I think we really need to look at it. I would be in favor of a rate increase to at least $100.”

The shortage is not unique to Lynn; it’s a problem throughout the state and elsewhere in the country, according to Tutwiler. When he worked as a principal in Boston, substitute rate was higher, but the district still had difficulty getting substitutes, especially on days when there were high teacher absences, he said.

In nearby Swampscott, for instance, the school district raised its substitute pay rates from $65 to $75 three years ago to entice more substitutes. But the district still has a shortage on days when there’s unanticipated teacher absences, according to Maureen Caron, executive assistant to Swampscott Superintendent Pamela Angelakis.

There’s an occasional day or two where there are no substitutes available in Swampscott. The district has about 56 substitutes, but their availability varies — for instance, some only want to do elementary coverage, or it may be a case where only elementary schools want their services, according to Caron.

Although on par with rates in Swampscott and Lynnfield, which also pays $75, Lynn’s sub rate is lower than some surrounding communities. In December, the Saugus School Committee raised their rates from $70 to $80, with an eye toward attracting more substitutes.

Substitutes in Salem Public Schools get paid $100, but see a bump to $120 for extended learning time after rates were raised last month from $75 and $85 respectively, according to the district’s payroll office.

In Boston Public Schools, substitutes make $148.68 per day. Long-term subs get paid $165.40 after 10 consecutive days and $299.27 after 25 days, according to the district’s spokesman, Dan O’Brien.

In Revere, subs are paid based on their education — those without a degree and license get paid $75; subs with a bachelor’s degree, but no license get $85 and subs with a degree and license get $100, according to the district’s payroll office.

In Peabody Public Schools, substitutes get paid $78 per day. After 90 days of work in the same school year, that rate increases to $85 and then $95 after 100 days. Retired teachers get paid $100, according to the district’s substitute handbook.

According to the National Substitute Teachers’ Alliance, the national average rate for substitutes is about $105. More relevant, however, is Lynn’s rate relative to its neighbors, according to Lynn School Committee member Michael Satterwhite.

“It’s harder to find subs because surrounding communities pay more,” Satterwhite said. “We have to compete with the surrounding districts, not a state 1,000 miles away.”

Another wrinkle in Lynn is that full-time teachers in the district get paid at a much higher rate to act as substitutes, by covering a class period for another teacher during the school day. Tutwiler said those teachers get paid at their contractual hourly rate, which is about $45.

So, Gately said, a teacher covering one to five classes, could potentially make up to $225 a day.

A retired Lynn Public Schools teacher herself, Gately has advocated for a rate increase since she was elected to the School Committee in 2015. She said the problem in the past is the increase has been caught in a Catch-22 with whether it’s up to the Lynn Teachers Union or school administrators to change it.

Long-term substitutes, who fill in for a teacher taking a leave of absence, become part of the Lynn Teachers Union after 20 days and get paid on a scale based on their education, according to Tutwiler.

Regular substitute pay is defined in the Lynn Teachers Union contract. That gives the impression that it’s in the union’s purview, but it’s in the School Committee’s control based on the school administration’s recommendation to change the rates, according to Tutwiler.

Sheila O’Neil, president of the Lynn Teachers Union, said of the rates: “we know it’s an issue and hopefully it’s going to be addressed this year.”

In the meantime, Tutwiler said school administrative officials are working with the teachers’ union to try to find creative ways to attract and place substitutes. As an example, the administration is looking at more professional learning activities that don’t require pulling from the substitute pool.


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