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Substitute teachers complain about new staffing firm

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Veteran substitute teachers find new process time-consuming, onerous

Alamance-Burlington school board members heard this week about some of the obstacles that substitute teachers have encountered since ABSS contracted with Kelly Education Services to manage substitute staffing services for the school system.

Candace St. John of Haw River, a substitute teacher for ABSS, was among the two dozen people who spoke during the public comments period at the school board’s latest meeting Monday night. It was the first meeting in years to draw a crowd that filled the auditorium at the ABSS central office to capacity and spilled into the hallway (see related story, this edition).

St. John said she was speaking for herself and on behalf of several other substitute teachers who attended the meeting with her – and stood when asked so school board members could gauge how many subs were present for the discussion – about the difficulties they’ve had in applying since ABSS outsourced those services to Wisconsin-based Kelly Education Services (KES).

St. John also seemed particularly upset about learning recently that substitute teachers are no longer directly employed through ABSS. “Why is ABSS sending us through a temporary service?” she asked during public comments Monday night.

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St. John said she and other substitute teachers were under the impression that they were considered “essential” workers when Covid-19 hit last year – and now they’re not. Then they were told they would be “grandfathered in” after the contract with KES was approved – only to have to apply all over again through KES, she said.

“Why are we having to fill out a new application for our job?” St. John asked. “It has taken some of us over three hours; we have older [subs] that can’t fill out a computer application. I’m now being told to fill out an I-9 form.” Though St. John referred to the I-9 as an “immigration form,” all U.S. employers are required to complete an I-9 for every employee, regardless of his/her citizenship status.

School board members voted unanimously in March to approve a contract with KES, which the school system’s finance officer Jeremy Teetor confirmed this week is an affiliate of Kelly Staffing.

Teetor acknowledged that KES was overwhelmed by the higher-than-expected turnout for an initial hiring event that the company held earlier this month at the Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington. That location was chosen for the event because it’s a fairly central location with plenty of parking and computer labs where applicants could submit an application, Teetor said Monday in an interview with The Alamance News.

KES held the first hiring event on June 15, followed by two more since, Teetor told the newspaper, adding that another open application event was scheduled for Wednesday and could be followed by others later this summer. Approximately 55 people – more than the number who’d originally indicated they would attend – turned out for the first hiring event, which was similar to an open application process, he said.

Some of the prospective substitute teachers who showed up on June 15 were seniors and veteran teachers who didn’t have email accounts, so KES had to get those people set up with email to complete and submit applications through the company’s computer-based system, Teetor explained in the interview Monday.

A former or prospective ABSS sub, who didn’t give her name, called The Alamance News Monday morning, complaining that she’d had to stand in line for hours to apply through KES. The company is now setting up appointments for applications to eliminate long wait times for other prospective substitute teachers, Teetor told the newspaper Monday morning.

Teetor estimates that KES has hired and assigned 200 substitute teachers for ABSS for the new 2021-22 school year that begins in August.

The contract requires Kelly Education Services (KES) to recruit, hire, and assign substitute teachers, as well as conduct background checks and track teacher absences, among other responsibilities. Outsourcing that aspect of personnel will free up the school system’s human resources division to focus on recruiting and hiring regular classroom teachers – a long-running concern for ABSS officials and school board members due to an ongoing, nationwide shortage of teachers entering and staying in the profession.

ABSS is projected to save an average of $156,677 by outsourcing substitute staffing to KES, based on information that Teetor provided to school board members for their discussion in March. ABSS previously paid approximately $2.3 million per year for substitute teachers and related services such as payroll; the cost for KES to manage substitute staffing will be approximately $2.1 million.

KES will be paid a fee of 32 percent above the current daily pay for substitute teachers, under its contract with ABSS. For example, the current rate for a certified substitute teacher (i.e., one holding a current license to teach in North Carolina) is $103 per day; the company will bill ABSS $135.96 per day, according to figures that were presented to the school board at the time. The rate for a non-certified substitute teacher is $86.50 per day; ABSS will be billed $114.18 per day for any non-certified subs hired by KES, based on the figures presented in March.

KES will be responsible for paying all substitute teachers it hires for ABSS, as well as benefits, including any state benefits that they’re eligible to receive; for maintaining personnel and payroll records; and for providing workers’ compensation coverage, under the terms outlined in the contract.

The contract with KES runs indefinitely but can be canceled at any time with 30 days’ notice.

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