Local school districts, including those who have raised pay rates, continue to struggle to find enough substitute teachers to cover their classrooms, leading to “great havoc” in schools.

“There are many days we have assignments unfilled,” said Westbrook Superintendent Dr. Peter Lancia. “When there isn’t a substitute available, we patch together coverage to find people who can cover parts. It impacts the kids.”

With only 35 substitute teachers this year, Gorham is “desperately trying to recruit more,” said Superintendent Heather Perry.

Districts across the state have tried for years to increase their rosters of substitutes to an adequate level, using online recruiting systems, placing help wanted ads in local newspapers and following up on word of mouth recommendations. There’s “always a shortage of substitute teachers,” said SAD 6 Superintendent Paul Penna.

It really is a symptom of a really good economy,” said RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell. Maine’s unemployment rate is currently 3%. 

Both Perry and Lancia estimate that their districts need about 10 substitute teachers per day, although Perry said there are times she needs as many as 30 during staff training days, for example.

When enough substitutes can’t be found, “it is a challenge to make sure that we have that effective educational instruction that’s needed,” said Lake Region Superintendent Al Smith. 

We look at existing personnel within the building and look to see who can cover” classrooms, said Howell of his Windham-Raymond district. Oftentimes, administrators, support techs or other teachers will take over. 

“A shortage of substitutes can cause great havoc in a school,” Perry added.

Many districts have raised the amount they pay their substitutes per day in order to be competitive with other districts and hopefully attract more subs.

Gorham recently increased its rate to $85 per day for regular substitutes and $90 per day for subs who are certified teachers. Westbrook’s base rate is $80 a day, which increases based on the length of the assignment. Lancia said the district is considering increasing the rate.

Lake Region raised its rate to $80 per day last year, but Smith said the district still has “a very difficult time filling the holes. I don’t know if it helped to raise the rate.”

RSU 14 pays its substitutes in Windham-Raymond schools between $85 and $100 a day, while SAD 6 pays between $80 and $90. In Gray-New Gloucester, SAD 15’s rate is $85 per day.

Kelli Deveaux, director of communications for Maine’s Department of Education, said “there are statewide reports of issues with staffing for all positions, including teachers, ed techs, bus drivers and substitutes.”

“With increasing median age and minimum wage and a decreasing unemployment rate, education is facing the same workforce shortage that many industries across the state are,” she said. 

Gail Monahan, a retired teacher and substitute in RSU 14, said she has experienced another issue while working as a sub: “The disrespect you get as a substitute from other teachers.”

“I think that would make it hard for somebody” to work as a substitute teacher, she said.

Monahan knows she would make more money working a different job, but enjoys working with students. The demand for subs is so high, she said, that “I could probably, if I wanted to, work five days a week.”

Even thought districts are scrambling to fill their classrooms, “we have to keep it all going no matter what,” Lancia said.

“It’s hard for us,” he said. “We can’t tell kids not to come.”

Comments are not available on this story.