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.
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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