Substitute teachers easier to find
Lori Elston's phone starts ringing at 6:30 in the morning.
Elston, married to Tonganoxie High School football coach Mark Elston, and the mother of three young sons, is the substitute teacher coordinator for the Tonganoxie school district.
"Some days the phone doesn't ring at all, and then other days I'm on it all day long Mondays and Fridays are the worst," Elston said.
But the stay-at-home mother says she loves her job because she can work at home. Now in her second year of doing the work, she says the job is easier.
"I feel like this year has gone a little smoother," Elston said. "One, we have more substitutes, and two, because I know everybody better I don't have to look up their names."
At her fingertips is a list of 35 substitute teachers who live in Tonganoxie, Lawrence, Leavenworth and Johnson County. Of those, Elston said, some are more accustomed to being called than others.
"We have a good 10 or 12 that are used all the time and that the teacher's request," she said.
Before Elston picks up the phone to contact substitutes, she already knows who might be the best fit.
"Each substitute that signs up will give me certain restrictions on what they want to do," Elston said. "We have a lot that just want to do K-6, and we have others that want 7-12."
Elston said lately she's been placing from six to eight substitutes a day. Again this year, the number picked up in January.
"Right after Christmas break is when we get swamped," she said.
Elston attributed the increase to seasonal illnesses and in-service meetings.
Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson said it's been a relief to see an increase in the number of available substitutes.
"The last two or three years have been difficult," he said. "But this year we've had more substitutes than we've had in the last two to three years."
The reason, Erickson said, could relate to the economy.
"When the economy is really strong and the unemployment rates are low, usually our supply of substitute teachers is low, and the opposite is true when the economy is weak and the unemployment rates are higher," Erickson said.
High in demand right now are paraprofessional substitutes, Melissa Ostermeyer, Erickson's secretary, said.
For 18 years, Crys Harrington, a secretary at Basehor-Linwood Middle School, has arrived at her office at 6 a.m. so she can arrange for substitute teachers.
Currently, Harrington said she has about three dozen substitutes on her call list. She said she arranges for about 15 substitutes a day throughout the school year.
"I have more substitute teachers than I've had in two years at least," she said. "I don't know why, but I love it."
Because in the past there has been a shortage of substitute teachers in Kansas, the number of emergency substitute certificates issued has almost doubled in recent years.
For instance, during the 1996-1997 school year, the state issued 2,885 emergency certificates, compared to 6,538 for the 2000-2001 school year. Applicants who have at least 60 hours of college credit may apply.
A completed application, college transcript, references and a processing fee must be submitted to the state. Certification qualifies the substitute to teach in any Kansas school district.
The McLouth school district has 23 substitute teachers on its call list. Of those, seven are college students, said Dee Gill, who is in her second year of arranging substitute teachers for the district.
"It's a lot better this year than last year," she said. "The trend this year is I'm getting more college kids. There are days they're not in classes so they can work for me."