This story has been updated.

The San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees unanimously voted Monday to increase pay rates for substitute teachers while the district grapples with 100 vacant teaching positions.

SAISD, like many school districts across the country, has struggled to fill teacher and other staff positions during the pandemic. COVID-19 and the challenges of virtual instruction led many to resign or retire, and districts are hiring more employees than in recent years, with help from federal coronavirus aid.

Nationally, employment in public education decreased by 575,000 workers between February 2020 and October 2021, according to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the 2018-19 school year, 21,869 new teacher certificates were issued across the state, according to the Texas Education Agency. In the 2019-20 school year, only 17,734 new teacher certificates were issued.

In addition to its high number of teacher vacancies, SAISD is relying on a smaller pool of substitutes to help cover an absence in a classroom or one that lacks a permanent instructor, said Toni Thompson, associate superintendent of human resources. Right now, the district has about 750 active substitutes when it used to have about 1,500.

SAISD decided to increase daily pay rates for certified substitute teachers who can cover classroom instruction while it works to fill its vacancies. The higher pay will go in effect in January and cost the district about $5.12 million. Some of that cost will be covered by the $8.1 million SAISD intended to use to fill staff vacancies but has not been able to do so, said Jill Rhodes Pruin, interim assistant superintendent of human capital management.

The district will pay substitutes more on Mondays and Fridays, when SAISD sees the highest number of open positions. Substitutes certified in critical subject areas — bilingual/ESL/dual language, special education, math, science, English, and social studies — will earn $200 per day Tuesday through Thursday and $225 per day Monday and Friday.

Daily pay rates for certified substitutes covering subjects that don’t match their credentials and those teaching in non-critical subject areas will range between $175 and $225. A degreed substitute will earn between $135 and $185 per day, while substitutes without degrees will earn between $120 and $160 per day.

Secondary teacher substitutes at Cooper Academy and in the Sam Houston and Lanier clusters will receive an additional $25 to their daily rate because those campuses have the most difficulties in filling positions.

Substitute pay rates for the fall semester currently range between $150 and $200 for certified substitutes or those with degrees in the content areas they will be covering. Daily rates for substitutes teaching outside their certifications or degrees and those without degrees range between $90 and $140.

Interim Superintendent Robert Jaklich said the district looked at its data to determine the best methods to attract certified substitute teachers and to keep them on a long-term basis, which benefits students who won’t have their education disrupted by a revolving door of instructors. The higher pay rates for certified substitutes who work every day are close to the daily rate of a teacher.

“We’re not in an island. San Antonio has 17 school districts,” he said. “People have the opportunity to choose. If we’re not on our A game, they’re not going to choose us.”

Board President Christina Martinez said after the vote that the board’s focus is the roughly 45,000 students who attend SAISD schools and that these higher pay rates for substitutes will help ensure students are closing academic gaps created by the pandemic.

Jaklich agreed.

“The most important thing is this allows a certified teacher to get in front of a student for the next 80 days, which are key instructional periods for us in the school district,” he said. “The No. 1 thing to close the performance gap for any student is to get a highly qualified, certified teacher in front of them, and that’s our commitment.”

During public comment, San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Alejandra Lopez told the board that staff shortages have created a more stressful and less effective atmosphere for staff, and, in some situations, a less safe environment for students and staff because of the pandemic. Some union members have said they felt guilty for using sick days to take care of their families or their own medical needs.

“The increase in substitute pay rates demonstrates that district leadership understands how important it is that, day in and day out, our students have caring and invested adults in their classrooms, whether it be a retired certified teacher or a parent volunteer who already finds themselves at the campus each day,” Lopez said. “Our new substitute teacher rates validate the critical job that our substitutes do.”

SAISD will evaluate the effectiveness of the increased substitute pay rates at the end of the school year, Jaklich said. The district plans to survey substitutes after a few weeks on the job to see how SAISD could improve the process and attract more teachers.

On Tuesday, the Southwest ISD school board also will consider increasing substitute pay rates, and the Edgewood ISD board will consider approving a stipend for employees and qualifying substitutes who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Both meet at 6 p.m.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.