Feb 14, 2022 - News

Some Des Moines metro school districts can only fill 50% of absences

Illustration of school desks, some of them cut out with nothing behind them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Des Moines metro school districts are facing record-high teacher and staff absences — and on some days, they're only able to get 50% of those vacancies filled by substitutes, according to data obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: COVID-19 infections, staff burnout and workforce shortages are resulting in teachers taking more time off now than in past years.

  • But at the same time, there's a smaller pool of substitutes for districts to pull from, forcing schools to compete with each other and raise rates to come out on top.
Number of teacher and associate absences in Waukee school district, by school year
Data: Waukee School District; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

By the numbers: Des Moines schools endured some of the highest unfilled absence percentages. In January and February, about 45% of absences went unfilled.

  • In January, 42% of Waukee's staff absences went unfilled.
  • Urbandale said 30-40 teachers are out everyday and 25-30% of absences go unfilled.
  • Johnston doesn't fill nearly 30% of its absences.
  • In Ankeny, it's around 20%.

Of note: West Des Moines did not provide numbers.

The big picture: Iowa school districts are doing everything they can to cover classrooms, from raising substitute teacher pay to even considering reducing the school week to four days.

State of play: In the Des Moines metro, most districts have raised substitute pay rates and many are compensating teachers for using their planning periods to cover classes.

  • But as a last resort, districts are resorting to other methods as well.

Zoom in: Waukee and Des Moines schools are having to put students into study hall with supervisors when teachers and substitutes are unavailable.

What's ahead: Ultimately, Iowa needs more people to enter the education profession, said Ryan Wise, dean of education at Drake University and the former head of Iowa's Department of Education.

  • Certain bills moving through the Legislature may help, including increasing funding for the Teach Iowa grant and easing requirements to become a paraeducator.
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