Schools lose subs to Eagle County slopes |

Schools lose subs to Eagle County slopes

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyMeadow Mountain Elementary substitute teacher Josh Rumble helps student Noah Anderson with a shape-recognition game Thursday at the Eagle-Vail school.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Josh Rumble knows every student’s name at Meadow Mountain Elementary, which is pretty good for a substitute teacher.

Rumble is a permanent sub for Meadow Mountain, which means he’s at the school Monday through Friday, whether there’s an absent teacher or not. If he’s not filling-in for a sick teacher, he’s assisting in other classes, at recess, at lunch, tutoring struggling students or working with small groups on a class project.

“I know all the teachers’ expectations, which kids to watch, which ones you can turn your back on, which kids need help in explaining things,” Rumble said.

Giving every school money to hire a permanent substitute is one solution the district is trying this year to help out with the never-ending sub shortage. Because of the shortage, teachers and principals often have to cover for their sick colleagues during their fragmented and precious chunks of planning time.

Last year, Meadow Mountain Elementary was one of a handful of schools that didn’t have a permanent substitute, and having one this year makes a big difference, Principal Kathy Cummings said.

“If teachers call-in early in the morning, I know for sure we have one person in house to cover that,” Cummings said. “And the children know him, they trust him.”

This year, subs make $125 a day, a $25 raise over last year, and the school district is advertising open positions in the Vail Daily and at the movie theaters.

In some ways, these solutions are working. But in other ways, well, there still aren’t enough subs to go around.

The district allows subs to set preferences of exactly when, where and what kind of classes they want to teach. If someone wants to sub only elementary classes in Eagle or Gypsum on Mondays and Thursdays, well, that’s all they have to do.

Because of the increased pay though, some substitute teachers are increasing the number of schools, grades and days they’re willing to sub for, said Tammy Conway, the substitute teacher coordinator for the school district.

Still, there are usually a few absences that don’t get filled by substitutes, about the same number as last year, Conway said.

The problem is especially bad on Fridays, when coaches are away for games, and when some teachers just happen to be “sick” on the day before a weekend, said Jason Glass, human resources director for the district.

And then there’s ski season coming up, a time when the shortage typically gets tougher. A handful of substitutes double as ski instructors, and when the mountain opens up, the school district usually loses subs, Conway said.

Other jobs, like being a ski instructor, illustrate the heart of the problem with subs. The school district is, like any business, competing in a very tough job market, and when stacked up against other, more consistent jobs, often with better pay and less stress, it rarely wins.

“Trying to find a substitute in a resort community is always challenging,” said Eric Mandeville, assistant principal at Eagle Valley High School. “We are always looking for substitutes.”

Having a sub shortage often steals teachers away from hours of planning, coaching and mentoring time, one of the most important aspects of the Teacher Advancement Program.

Teachers who sacrifice their planning periods to cover for an absent teacher also received a raise this year. Now, they’re paid $17.50 an hour instead of $10.50 for their lost time.

“We’re hoping that will generate some good will ” if they have to give up their planing time and do their planning at home, they should be earning some extra money,” Glass said.

Another problem is the way personal leave days are set up. If a teacher doesn’t use their sick days, there’s no pay out at the end of the year or when they leave the school district. So, teachers find a way to use them.

“Some teachers work really hard at making sure they use all of them, and some don’t,” Glass said.

While there are policies against using a sick day to prolong a weekend or a holiday, if someone says they’re sick, they’re officially sick.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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