Substitute Teacher Shortage in Scituate Uncovers Underlying Issues

Paying teachers to give up their prep periods is not the answer to the substitute shortage

Substitute Teacher Shortage in Scituate Uncovers Underlying Issues

Maeve Lawler and Madeleine Levesque

Scituate Public Schools are currently experiencing a lack of substitute teachers, which puts students’ academic opportunities at risk. The Scituate Board of Education needs to take action immediately to improve this situation. 

In Massachusetts, public school districts are required to recruit substitute teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree; however, they are not required to offer minimum wage for these positions. Consequently, determining substitute pay is a local decision. Scituate Public Schools follows this state law exemption for municipalities, allowing them to pay substitute teachers below minimum wage. In Scituate, substitute teachers earn $10.71 an hour, which is below the Massachusetts minimum wage of $12.75 an hour. 

Tracy Kiddie, a Scituate resident who previously worked as a substitute teacher for Scituate Public Schools, is currently advocating for a change to this policy. Arguing that substitutes for other district jobs are paid above the minimum wage, Kiddie explained that substitute cafeteria workers earn $15 an hour, substitute custodians earn $19 an hour and substitute bus drivers earn $25 an hour.  

According to the website, Scituate substitute teachers earn $75 a day. After 20 days they are given a raise, earning $85 a day. This works out to be $12.00 an hour, still below the Massachusetts minimum wage. At the beginning of each academic year, new and returning substitutes earn $75 a day until they exceed the 20-day period. This makes the job unappealing to many candidates, such as college graduates or those looking for flexible workdays.  

Considering the responsibilities that substitute teachers have for the safety of their students–especially while being called into work at a moment’s notice–it is reasonable for substitute teachers in Scituate to be paid at least minimum wage.  

A shortage of qualified substitute teachers has a negative impact on Scituate students. Kiddie commented, “Over the years I have seen office clerks and paraprofessionals pulled from their duties to cover the classroom because of the lack of substitutes at the elementary level.” According to Kiddie, this situation could affect special education students’ access to their services. Is Scituate Public Schools pushing the boundaries with the law? In Massachusetts, children with special education needs are required to receive services. 

Without the necessary substitutes, Gates Intermediate School and Scituate High School teachers regularly volunteer to spend their scheduled preparatory periods covering for teachers who are absent. Kiddie explained, “This can affect the education of typical students because the teachers do not always have the proper time to prepare lesson plans.” 

According to Kiddie, on one school day in February, Gates Intermediate School needed six substitute teachers. They didn’t have any, causing Gates teachers to volunteer approximately thirty periods to cover classes for their colleagues. Consequently, $35 was paid to each teacher who missed a prep period. Paying teachers for missed prep periods could be more expensive than paying substitute teachers the Massachusetts minimum wage. 

Jennifer Arnold, Assistant Superintendent of Scituate Public Schools, acknowledges there is a need for more substitutes in Scituate. As a possible solution, Arnold suggested a job fair similar to an open house so those people who are interested in applying could get information about the school as well as the responsibilities, expectations, and opportunities for substitute teachers.

Recently, the Scituate Board of Education considered a formal recommendation to increase the substitute pay for this year’s budget cycle; unfortunately, this proposal did not pass. Arnold said she plans to continue to put this recommendation forward. 

Not having enough substitutes throughout the district is evident, but having these negative effects publicized and open for the public to acknowledge is a step in the right direction. This is an important issue that needs to be resolved.