The Baldwin County School District had been seeking a solution for its substitute staffing needs, and a unanimous vote by the board of education last week has taken the school system in a new direction.
The board voted 5-0 Tuesday to contract out the substitute services with Education Staffing Solutions (ESS), a Tennessee-based company specializing in finding substitute employees for schools. The agreement is for the 2019-20 school term and pays ESS based on usage. The school district projects that it will pay around $33,000 more than its current costs associated with substitute staffing to contract with ESS. Numbers given at last week’s board work session put the school district at $586,000 when operating sub services in-house, with the cost of ESS coming in at $620,000.
The driving statistic behind ESS is “fill rate,” which is the ability to get a substitute teacher/paraprofessional/employee at work when the regular employee has to miss. BCSD head of human resources and purchasing Judi Battle told board members in April that the school district’s fill rate was down around 62 percent during the most recent flu season, meaning that nearly 40 percent of absences went unfilled, thus stretching the employees that did make it to work thin.
Battle published a request for proposal and got five responses. Some were well-known temporary employee firms, but what stuck out about ESS was its references and the fact that it specializes in education.
Superintendent Dr. Noris Price told board members that ESS’ fill rates in its almost 30 school districts across the state of Georgia were not below 90 percent, and in many cases, was as high as 98 percent. ESS currently operates in 27 school systems around the state, the closest being Clarke County, one it just recently reached an agreement with.
Three ESS representatives were present at last Monday’s board work session to pitch their company and answer any lingering questions board members might have before approving the agreement. Dan McLaughlin, ESS director of business development, told board members that ESS operates sub services in more than 700 school districts across 24 states.
“What we want to do is ensure continuity in the classroom when the teacher is not present, so learning can still continue and that day is not wasted, because every day counts,” said Dan McLaughlin, ESS director of business development.
ESS and the school district will work together in building a database of substitutes out of the ones already in use and look to build a larger pool to increase fill rates. They will get paid the same rate offered by the school district, which is dependent upon education level, and have access to health care as well as other benefits. McLaughlin added that the subs will receive training from an experienced education professional, with a specific emphasis on how to manage a classroom full of kids.
“That is the No. 1 thing we hear about substitutes is that they lack classroom management,” he said. “We’re going to be looking for a good trainer we can bring on to train these substitutes. It’s four hours, it’s in-person, and it’s done here at the district.”
One major difference once ESS takes over substitute operations is that its employees will be paid weekly rather than monthly like they were through the school district. Subs are also restricted in the number of days they are allowed to work in a given month, but there will be no such restriction through ESS, according to information shared at the meeting.
Battle said that the district central office’s two departments most affected by the change were brought together to hear more about the process prior to last week’s meeting.
“We invited the finance team and HR department to come together for a presentation and present very specific questions that deal with our day-to-day operations and how this impacts us,” she said. “The response was very positive.”
Although the term “sub” in education is most associated with teachers, ESS fills other positions on a substitute basis as well, such as bus monitors and cafeteria workers. The company does not, however, handle substitute bus drivers due to liability issues.