HILLSIDE, NJ —The school board unanimously approved the use of staffing services at its Feb. 21 meeting to address the district’s shortage of substitute teachers, particularly for special needs students.
The move allows the district to seek staffing services through competitive bidding; once a service is selected, a contract will be brought before the board for approval.
Acting Superintendent Debra Sheard said at the meeting that the district is currently out of compliance with student individual education plans because there often aren’t substitutes available to cover for absent special education teachers.
“We’re in trouble with substitutes and it’s a very small market,” interim business administrator David Eichenholtz said at the meeting. “Right now, we’re really pushing it by pulling people from one-on-one aide positions to cover classes and that can’t continue on.”
Hillside Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Salters asked Sheard why the district has to go through a staffing company instead of paying substitutes a higher rate to remain competitive. He said many companies charge school districts more than $100 per day for substitutes and pay their employees about $75.
“Why don’t we just negotiate with the (teachers union) and pay the subs here $100 and increase the sub pay?” Salters asked.
Sheard responded that a major benefit of hiring through the staffing service is that health and benefits are provided to the teachers.
“That’s just something that we can’t compete with,” she said, adding that substitutes will still receive their current pay of $100 per day, with the district likely paying approximately $130 to the staffing service.
Substitutes also will be allowed to collect unemployment during the summer months through a service, according to Sheard.
Salters claimed at the meeting that the reason for a substitute shortage in Hillside is because “the surrounding areas pay better.”
Sheard responded that many of the districts he referred to — such as Elizabeth, Newark and Union — are also using staffing services.
“They’re not doing it on their own,” she said.
Rayba Watson, a former school board member, brought up concerns at the meeting regarding substitutes currently employed by the district and what will happen to them once a staffing service is selected.
Eichenholtz said that those teachers will have an opportunity to enroll in the program.
At the meeting the school board also formally approved Sheard’s revised contract, which includes a stipend of $100 per day for her duties as acting superintendent through June 30. Her initial annualized salary for serving as director of curriculum and instruction was set at $130,000 when she was first hired in November.
Sheard’s contract was approved by a 5-1 vote, with board members Calvin Lofton and Shalanda Thomas abstaining and Hawaiian Thompson-Epps voting against it.
Superintendent Antoine Gayles was suspended with pay when the board voted 6-2 after an executive session meeting at the Jan. 24 board meeting lasting more than two hours.
“So, as taxpayers, we’re still going to pay the current superintendent to sit home for six months because by June 30 — that’ll be six months?” Watson asked during the public comment portion before the board approved Sheard’s contract.
Board Vice President Kimberly Cook told Watson that labor and personnel matters cannot be discussed in open session and that information will be released to the public once it’s no longer a sensitive matter.
Gayles was suspended about two months after the previous lame-duck board had approved a three-year contract extension with a pay raise. Board attorney Allan Roth told LocalSource on Jan. 28 that the board was looking to determine whether Gayles’ new contract was valid.