‘No educator for entire day:’ Brockton school district faced with substitute teacher shortage

Last spring, The City of Champions got whacked with news that the school department was $14 million in debt.

“You know, we laid off a hundred thirty-plus teachers,” said School Board member Tony Rodrigues.

At Brockton High, more than 40 staffers lost their jobs. Students tell Boston 25 News classrooms are more crowded than they used to be — and sometimes there is no classroom because there is no teacher. In that case, students are sent to the cafeteria. One student said time in the cafeteria is meant to be an opportunity to catch up on school work.

But cafeteria time isn’t structured time — and, for many students, it’s likely not learning time either, Rodrigues suggested.

“I actually had a student call me and she didn’t have an educator for the whole day,” he said. “(She said) Mr. Rodrigues, I went to school for the whole day just to sit in the cafeteria.”

Brockton places 2 school district employees on leave amid $14M budget deficit

Compounding the staff shortages at the high school: a high absentee rate. “On average, it’s 20 to 25 teachers who call out a day,” said Acting Superintendent James Cobbs. “And we still need to hire 29 teachers. That’s why you have students in the cafeteria.”

While a portion of the absences are sick calls, Rodrigues said there’s perhaps something else going on.

“I think what it comes down to is more of a safety issue,” he said — with some teachers feeling that limited staff is no match for students who might become violent.

Brockton is hardly the only school district with staffing challenges. The Annenberg Institute estimates 36,500 teacher jobs in the U.S. went unfilled this year. And some 164,000 teachers that have been hired are underqualified.

That’s lowered the bar for hiring substitute teachers. But, as Brockton knows, that’s become a challenge unto itself.

“Substitute teachers are just becoming more and more difficult to get,” said School Board member Cynthia Rivas Mendes.

As for hiring subs now, three months into the school year — Rivas Mendes said that it’s almost impossible.

“When they start posting (substitute teacher jobs) it’s usually in the summertime,” she said. “So, by September, you have most or all of your educators hired.”

But just for the record, Brockton is still looking for subs — the pay rate is $135-150 a day.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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