Schools increase substitute pay, city offering some sign-on bonuses

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Jan. 27—In an effort to boost staffing continuity amid an ongoing wave of COVID cases, Cullman City Schools is temporarily increasing its rate of pay for substitute teachers as well as other support staff.

The city school board approved the increase in pay at a specially called meeting Wednesday morning. Under the terms of the temporary increase, pay for substitute teachers will rise from $75 to $125 per day; pay for support substitutes will increase from $8.50 to $13 per hour; and pay for Child Nutrition Program worker substitutes will increase from $75 to $85 per day. The increases will take effect on Feb. 1 and remain in place until May 31.

Wednesday afternoon, Cullman County Schools released a statement announcing it was raising the substitute teacher daily rate of pay from $75 to $125 due to staffing challenges amid the pandemic. That increase will be for school days beginning February 1 through the remainder of the current school year. The county increase includes current substitutes and those who attended recent orientation classes and are pending state approval.

City schools superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said the measure is aimed at keeping school staffing level, as the school system continues to prioritize in-person learning while weathering the pandemic. "This new [COVID] variant has hit us hard, not only with our students, but with our employees," he told The Times.

"Though our COVID cases are thankfully beginning to trend down among staff and students, we still have some teachers and workers out," Kallhoff added in a statement. "We are working extremely hard to maintain in-person instruction, because we believe that is what is best for students, and to that end we feel this is a great measure to show our appreciation for the substitutes stepping in to help during this time."

The school board also approved new employment sign-on bonuses for a number of support positions, including cafeteria workers, custodians, and special education paraprofessionals. Contingent on 90 days of successful employment, qualifying new support staff members can receive a one-time bonus of $1,500 as part of an agreement to serve out a minimum employment period of 24 months.

The added incentives, said Kalhoff, represent one immediate way for the school system to address COVID-related staffing challenges, while also making support positions more competitive with similar jobs in the private sector.

"Those are very difficult jobs for us to fill: custodians, the CNP (Child Nutrition Program) workers and cafeteria, special education aids. Those are positions where we post advertisements and we just don't get a lot of applicants. And the reason is, is that it's hard to compete with that same skill level employee [elsewhere] in the community," he explained. "There are businesses paying a lot more than that we pay, and we'll address that later on. We just can't address it right now. But what we can do now is offer an incentive of $1,500 to try to get them to come join us."

The board also agreed to extend the available COVID absence days available to employees, renewing a measure that had expired in September of last year. Employees who have a positive COVID test for themselves or a child can access up to 10 days under the policy, which will remain in effect through the rest of the current school year.

For new substitute teachers, the school system also agreed to pay the $30 required Alabama State Department of Education fee for substitute teacher licenses throughout the month of February. To qualify, completed substitute teacher packets must be received in the Cullman City Schools business office by close of business on Monday, February 28.

Amanda Shavers contributed to this report.