An increasing number of school districts in Blair County are contracting with or considering substitute teacher services instead of doing the hiring themselves.
It's a way for school districts to ensure a higher fill rate for absent teachers while also dropping costs in areas including contributions to the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System.
"The need for a substitute teacher many times exceeds the number of available substitutes, which can be a challenge," Altoona Area spokeswoman Paula Foreman said. "Because STS is a private company, there are additional opportunities to utilize retired educators as substitute teachers as well."
And because the teachers are employees of the service, the district is free of costs involved with benefits, recruitment, background checks and paychecks.
Substitute Teacher Service, headquartered in Aston, has recently added Altoona and Tyrone area school districts to its clientele, said company President Jay Godwin. Statewide, the company has more than 40 clients.
The company recruits and trains substitute teachers who live in local school districts. In June, the Altoona Area School Board approved a lease agreement with STS for office space in the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center.
"We try to take some responsibilities off school districts ... board approval of new hires won't exist any longer because the teachers are employees of STS, not the school district," Godwin said.
Spring Cove School District has approved a contract with another service, Source4Teachers, for the upcoming year.
"It is this loss in the quality of instruction that is the greatest motivation in our decision to contract for this service," Superintendent Robert Vadella stated in an email.
And if Spring Cove had used that company last year and placed the same number of substitute teachers, the district would have saved over $8,000, Vadella stated.
However, the use of the service in the next year will likely be more costly than what the district would spend if it continued placing substitute teachers on its own.
"It is due to the fact that the company has a better rate of filling substitute teacher positions than school districts are able to do on their own," Vadella stated.
Spring Cove's fill rate is about 78 percent and Source4Teachers fill rate is well over 90 percent.
"More substitute positions filled will result in greater overall costs but will provide more continuity in instruction and the quality of education students receive," Vadella stated. "We lose this continuity and quality of instruction when we are unable to place substitutes in the classrooms. When we do not have enough substitutes, we have to cancel or combine classes. Some of the classes that get canceled include music, reading and other special classes. Combining classes with the teachers who are here also results in overcrowded rooms and less attention to each student."
The Hollidaysburg Area board passed on the opportunity to outsource its substitute teachers.
"We still have a good group of substitutes," Board President Ron Yoder said.