A serious lack of substitute teachers at the Avon Grove Charter School has board members scrambling for alternatives, and questioning the contract the school has with the agency that supplies its substitute teachers.

The problem has become so dire that the board held an emergency meeting Jan. 2 to create to new substitute teacher positions and discuss the matter further.

Several Board members said Student Teaching Services (STS), the agency that supplies the school's substitute teachers, was in breach of contract.

Board member Eugene Steger said the agency had been unavailable to provide the necessary number of substitutes required by the administration.

Student Teaching Services Office Manger Kevin Kerns was unavailable for comment.

On Jan. 6, principal Kevin Brady and AGCS Human Resources Director Tony Sokolowski, met with STS officials to determine what the next step with the agency would be.

The parties discussed possible solutions for the school's substitute shortage.

"They were extremely helpful," Brady said, but he did not elaborate.

The meeting with STS, hiring two new permanent substitutes, and revamping the way the charter school's personal time off system works, all has played a role in solving the problem, according to Brady.

"We needed to do something internally," he said.

The Board of Trustees voted 7-2 to hire two permanent, part-time substitute teachers.

Board member Debbie Harper said she voted against the measure because she preferred a more incurred approach to resolving the problem.

Board members read a special report into the record that gave an overview of the problem and focused on AGCS' contract with STS.

"You have a unilateral breach in contract," Steger said.

The whole problem arose in the last several months when teachers were pulled more than usual from their prep and lunch times to cover classes.

Due to the amount of teachers consistently being pulled out of their prep and lunch times, the board will discuss the implementation of a compensation package for teachers at the next board meeting at the end of January.

If the compensation package is approved, teachers will be paid an amount to be announced for each 45-minute period they are pulled away.

A teacher who attended the meeting said that because of the lack of substitutes, a teacher's aide was pulled from her daily activities on Jan. 1 and, at $11 an hour, taught Spanish for the rest of the day.

This is against Pennsylvania state law, according to the Utilization of Paraprofessional Staff, which states: "paraprofessionals may perform non-instructional duties... paraprofessional service does not qualify as service as a substitute, temporary professional employee or professional employee" (CSPG, No. 101:3-4).

"In that case the issue was the paraprofessional was only there a part of the day," Brady said. "Our staff has instruction... even if it's for a short amount of time, to put an administrator or certified teacher in the class," Brady said. "A number of our paraprofessionals are actually certified teachers as well."

According to Brady, the contract between STS and AGCS states the school cannot have an independent pool of substitute teachers. But after the meeting with STS, both parties agreed this is unnecessary, Brady said.

Hiring a permanent, part-time teacher is one step toward ensuring the school has enough substitute teachers, but "it's definitely not going to be enough," Brady said.

Still, having one or two new substitute teachers will ease some of the pressure off the current administration and teachers who are continually asked to cover classrooms where no substitute has been stationed, Brady said.

"We recognized pretty early that... it's a fairly complicated problem," board member Glenn Hamilton said. "This is not a crisis."

As reported previously in the Sun, teachers feel pressure that if they don't take their paid time off they will lose this paid time.

In the 2004-05 school year teachers were paid for all time off not taken at the end of the school year. But this year's policy states that time off not taken will be put into a bank for two years. If a teacher resigns or is terminated, he or she will not be paid for time off not taken.

As a result, the board voted to change the policy during the meeting. The new policy gives teachers the opportunity to write Human Resources by May 1 if they want to be paid for any time off not taken. If there is no written document provided to Human Resources, all accrued time off not taken will go into a bank. When a teacher resigns from AGCS from May 2 onward he or she will be paid only for half of the amount of total days allotted in his or her bank.

"I think it's an acceptable plan," Sokolowski said.

Essentially, the teachers will continue to lose money if they do not take their paid time off by the end of the year, several people in the audience said.

Barb Wood, Director of Administrative Services at AGCS, said that teachers equate paid time off with dollars. "Let's face it... people understand two things, you give me time and then you take it away. You equate those days with dollars. I'm losing not days but dollars... You need to enforce with your directors -- you need to manage that paid time off."

School Board member Mary Ann Kim expressed her concern during the meeting.

"My only concern is some of the recommendations [are] going to take some time... Two substitutes give us some leeway," Kim said.

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