Despite government assurances that the country’s economy is thriving, ask any AISD employee and a different story is told.
The school district continues to seek qualified employees to serve as classroom substitute teachers and bus drivers for its more than 60,000 registered students. Currently, the district bus driver shortage hovers around 78 and substitutes continue to be in high demand.
“Subs get paid a daily rate. They don’t get paid extra for filling in for another teacher,” assistant principal Carolyn Longoria said. “Unfortunately, some subs are asked to cover another teacher’s class during a conference or PLC period the teacher they were originally assigned to cover classes for.”
Substitute pay ranges from $75-80 daily depending on if the sub holds a college degree. For long term subs, the daily rate jumps to $95; a degreed and certified sub in the course being taught earns $125 daily. Still, the long term sub often is told to cover another class in an off period. The result: a long day with only a 35 minute lunch.
“I feel concerned when subs aren’t receiving any breaks. Not having a break to rest and recharge for next class can be really overwhelming,” English II and ESL teacher Janet Ramirez said. “We all need a moment to breathe. I, myself, volunteer to cover classes when I can, even though it makes me have a delay to start my class.”
Overworking subs appears to be isolated among district campuses. Lamar seems to border on overuse and word quickly spreads.
“Been coming to Lamar for 12 years full time. The negative thing I find about working here is the long periods with no extra pay for off periods. Makes my day very long and stressful,” substitute Don Wilson said. “When I work at other schools, they don’t do that. I like Lamar because it’s easy transportation and I know most of the teachers. I’m always booked by them, too; but if I didn’t have easy transportation and didn’t know most of the teachers, I wouldn’t come to Lamar.”
Mondays and Fridays find substitutes in demand. Athletic competitions, professional development, and personal issues create many openings. It’s not uncommon for Lamar to need 30-plus subs in one day.
“It’s overwhelming when you don’t have enough teachers and subs to cover classes. It’s sad when kids are hanging out without an instructor,” attendance clerk Candy Garcia said. “Subs come and complain to me about their job because of classes, some even walk out. I feel embarrassed.”
Each afternoon before the final bell sounds, a PA announcement is made for bus changes. Within classrooms, sighs expel as riders listen for their new bus number or if they are now on the second run.
“We don’t have enough drivers. It’s that simple,” transportation specialist Casandra White said. “We hire drivers and they quit or stop showing up. It’s very frustrating. Everything gets behind schedule.”
Currently, the district has 275 drivers, but needs approximately 350. The lack of drivers delays some students from leaving campus immediately following the bell. Often these students wait 30 minutes or longer for their assigned bus to arrive.
“Because it is so late when I get home, I have to do things quickly and never have time to relax,” senior Javi Rodriguez said.
AISD pays bus drivers $18.55 hourly and attendants earn $13.50 hourly. Low pay and dealing with student issues are just two reasons for the lack of applicants.
Recently, coaches were asked to consider getting their license to drive a bus for their team competition purposes. This would free up some of the drivers to handle daily transport of students from campus to home.
“At the beginning of the year, we had an all AISD coaches meeting with the district’s athletic director. He encouraged all coaches to get their CDL because we are short bus drivers,” cheer coach Colleen Bryant said. “Some coaching schedules make it difficult to attend the required Saturday sessions and take the license tests.”
With the end of the Fall 2019 semester just weeks away, these issues appear to remain unsolved by the district as the new year approaches.