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Bellwood-Antis addresses shortage of substitutes

BELLWOOD — Bellwood-Antis School Board members Tuesday took a step to address its problem of finding qualified substitutes.

Board members approved a contract with Ignite Education Solutions to provide long-term, contracted and substitute staff on an as-needed basis for the 2020-21 school year.

Ignite, an affiliate of and operated by the Learning Lamp Inc., will be paid $12 per hour for up to seven hours per day, said Superintendent Thomas McInroy.

The Johnstown-based nonprofit organization helps dozens of school districts in Cambria, Somerset, Bedford and Blair counties address staffing issues in a variety of ways, said CEO Leah Spangler.

“In addition to personal care aides and classroom aides, we work with schools to recruit and train substitute teachers, ensuring students have a quality academic experience even when their regular teacher is absent,” Spangler said. “In 2019, the organization supported more than 30,000 area children through a variety of programs, including child care, preschool, drug and alcohol prevention programs, and school staffing support. We are glad to be able to work with Bellwood-Antis School District to support its students and staff.”

“We are using Ignite Education Solutions because we cannot find qualified personnel to fill positions. We have advertised in the local paper, district website and on Indeed,” McInroy said. “The substitute shortage goes beyond paraprofessionals and other support staff positions.” There are shortages with substitute teachers as well.

“I will stop short of calling it a crisis, however, we are almost there. A few years ago, we would have dozens of people applying for a single opening. Now, we have one or two people or no one at all,” McInroy said.

He said the shortage exists for several reasons.

“Over the years in Pennsylvania, educators and public education have been villainized. The state passes laws without funding attached to support the new law. Local school districts raise taxes to cover the unfunded mandate and then the state politicians blame school districts for raising taxes. Laws such as Act 1 were passed to control how fast and high taxes could be raised. What would have been a better solution is to have state government fund all mandates. That would have kept local property taxes lower,” McInroy said.

He said another reason people are not going into education is because people think that teachers only work for nine months.

“Some taxpayers then criticize teachers — sometimes aggressively. What goes unseen is teachers’ work on continuing education, which is mandated, and/or work second jobs to cover student loans,” McInroy said. “Also, we are competing with other professions that offer better pay and benefits with the same level of education. Think of it this way: New teachers are spending approximately $100,000 on an education and carry that amount in student loans to make approximately $45,000 as a teacher.”

McInroy has an idea about what can be done.

“I have suggested to our local state representatives that they use the tuition reimbursement formula that is given to physicians who work in rural areas and apply it to educators. This would attract people to the profession. Obviously, there would be a commitment that the teacher would be required to serve before they would be relieved of the financial obligation,” McInroy said. “State and federal lawmakers should not be allowed to pass laws impacting public schools without appropriate funding attached to them.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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