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Schools: Plan to outsource substitute teachers raises questions, not objections

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Substitute teachers in the Georgetown County schools will be working for an outside employer by the end of the year under a plan due to come up for a vote by the school board this month. The move will come in time to shift the cost of compliance with the Affordable Care Act to the private employer, Kelly Educational Staffing.

The district faces an additional $209,397 cost for providing health insurance to substitutes who average more than 30 hours a week, said Jon Tester, the district human resources director.

Shifting the subs to Kelly will save the district $88,963 in wages and benefits – with no reduction for the employees. It will save another $104,690 in administrative costs.

But Tester, a former principal, said the biggest saving will be to school staff who have to line up substitute teachers, usually at the last minute.

The district now has a computerized phone system to help with the process. Before that, “it was time intensive,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “It was a nightmare.”

The current system also makes repeat calls to some candidates, he said.

“We want the system to be user-friendly, better for the principals,” Dozier said. “If it’s not better, I’ll be the first to tell you.”

While he stressed that money isn’t the object, the prospective savings come at a time when the district is looking at a decline in attendance that will cost about $150,000 in revenue from the state.

As of Tuesday, the district had a net drop of 85 students from the 9,747 it projected when it put together the annual budget. While it lost 113 students in kindergarten to 12th grade, those were offset with an increase of 18 students at Coastal Montessori Charter School.

There were also slight increases in special needs students, which are allocated additional funds from the state.

“I think we can make that up,” Dozier said. “They’re still trickling in.”

If not, the savings from the move to Kelly, which would begin before Jan. 1, would help balance the budget. Dozier said he would also recommend a limit on temporary help and overtime, which he said ran over budget last year.

School board members raised no objections to the outsourcing idea, first presented in April. But even after seeing a report this week on the project savings, Board Member Arthur Lance had questions.

“Kelly can make life easier,” he said. “Are we going to get better people?”

And if that’s the case, “let’s hire somebody to do the teachers too. Let’s outsource that,” Lance, a former principal, said.

“I understand the concern,” Tester said. He contacted some of the 16 districts in the state that already use Kelly. He said they were all pleased with the service.

The district has 427 substitute teachers on its active list. It acutally employed 223 last year. All the current substitutes can apply to Kelly, but they will face an additional behavioral evaluation and another level of background checks.

Tester said the only source of complaint he heard from other districts was that some of their subsititutes didn’t meet the company’s critera.

Among the advantages, Tester said, are that Kelly will recruit and train the substitutes. The district requires the subs to complete a class, but there is no continuing education requirement. They get annual training from Kelly, Tester said.

“I see this as a cost saving process plus the ability to upgrade our substitute teachers,” Board Member Richard Kerr said.

The Affordable Care Act is estimated to impact about 25 percent of the current substitutes. That figure could increase, said Myrtle Morris, who coordinates the subs.

“Then that’s a no-brainer,” Kerr said.

“I’m not saying I’m against Kelly. Hey, we can give it a try,” Lance said.

The contract will Kelly will run year-to-year and the district can pull out with 30 days notice, said Dargan Postal, Kelly’s district manager.

The change will come up for a vote Sept. 16.

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