Preparing for a battle with Sacramento, Bakersfield City School District is applying for a waiver this week that would allow substitutes to teach in classrooms for longer than 30 days — and if their waiver gets denied, district leaders have said they plan to sue the state.
Exacerbated by a punishing teacher shortage that has left some classrooms without full-time teachers, districts across the state are facing a dilemma: they need substitutes to fill gaps but are hamstrung by state educational code, which limits the number of days subs can remain in a single classroom.
Once a substitute hits 30, he or she must be shuffled to another classroom. That leads to inconsistencies for students, district leaders say.
“Parents notice changes that happen in the learning experience of our students when the teacher is gone and the substitute has to change because that is what the law allows,” BCSD spokeswoman Irma Cervantes said. “This is something parents are noticing.”
So BCSD will take its first step Tuesday to address the matter by applying for a waiver that would allow it to place a sub in a single classroom for an indefinite period of time. The district said it is focused on getting the waiver, but would pursue “alternative options” if unsuccessful.
That waiver, however, will likely be denied, BCSD Superintendent Harry ‘Doc’ Ervin told The Californian in May. If that happens, the district would challenge the state of California, either by trying to introduce legislation to change the law, or suing the state.
“We’re carrying the fight forward,” Ervin said at the time. “The bottom line is this: We have 30 to 45 teachers out a year, and kids have to have quality education.”
Ervin was unavailable for comment Monday.
No other Kern County school districts are applying for such waivers, said Kern County Superintendent of Schools office spokesman Rob Meszaros, adding, however that many districts in Kern are likely strapped for subs like BCSD and could benefit from substitute limits being extended.
BCSD’s waiver application heads to the board for approval the same day trustees are expected to approve sending 29 Provisional Internship Program teachers – who are not fully credentialed – into classrooms full-time. It’s also having nine instructors teaching subjects outside of their credentialing area.
Such moves have become typical as districts – especially those in the San Joaquin Valley – have struggled to attract and retain fully credentialed teachers, said Steve Comstock, president of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association, which represents BCSD’s 1,700 teachers.
While Comstock said the waiver doesn’t provide a permanent solution to the teacher shortage, it would address a critical issue at the district when there aren’t enough subs to go around.
Last year, there were instances when classes would have to be split up and sent to full-time teachers' rooms because there weren’t enough substitutes to go around. That hasn’t happened as much this year, Comstock said.
But it becomes a challenge when a teacher must leave for jury duty, or any kind of extended absence that can’t be covered through a long-term substitute.
“It becomes really tough for them to have any form of consistency in classrooms,” Comstock said of the existing term limits for substitutes. “Especially if you have a substitute you really want and you’d like to keep on – you can’t.”
But the solution — which districts across the state are considering — could only be temporary, Comstock said. California Teacher Association hasn’t taken an official stance on the matter, yet, he said.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm. It’s not going to fix it,” Comstock said. “We’ve got to come up with a better solution than this. It can’t be a long-term solution. We don’t want to see a bunch of non-credentialed people in credentialed spots. It’s just not healthy for the classrooms and the learning of the students.”