The superintendent of schools in Gulfport, Mississippi, became frustrated with the difficulty of finding substitute teachers and approached the local manager of a temporary-staffing agency about supplying them. The manager, who had never considered it before, saw the potential in this business idea. Now, two and a half years later, Kelly Services has contracts with 12 school districts in Mississippi and Louisiana to provide substitute teachers. Additionally, the company recently announced that they will be offering this service nationwide through their 1,200 local offices. While other temporary-staffing agencies also offer substitute teachers, Kelly Services is the first to do so on a national scale.
According to Teresa Setting, the director of product management for Kelly Services, the timing is perfect for both the company and school districts, as there is currently a shortage of substitute teachers. This shortage is partly due to the strong economy opening up other job opportunities for potential substitutes, as well as an increased focus on professional development for teachers, which requires substitutes to fill in during training.
Although many districts may welcome the help from temp agencies like Kelly Services, substitute-teaching activists are concerned that relying on private suppliers may hinder their efforts to improve the status and working conditions of substitute teachers. They worry that substitutes will be seen as temporary workers rather than alternatives to teachers.
Kelly Services, a Fortune 500 company founded in 1946, provides over 750,000 temporary workers annually for various industries. With sales exceeding $4 billion last year, it is one of the largest temporary staffing agencies in the country. If temporary staffing agencies were to provide just half the nation’s substitute teachers, it would tap into a $2.5 billion industry, says Ms. Setting.
Kelly Services’ experience with substitute teachers has been successful so far. Carlos Hicks, the superintendent of Gulfport schools, proposed the idea of temporary teachers to a Kelly Services manager during a Rotary Club luncheon. With the district sometimes needing up to 100 substitutes a day, finding teachers became challenging due to a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in the area. Gulfport principals and teachers voted in favor of extending the district’s contract with Kelly Services last year, with only a few teachers voting against it because they preferred choosing their own substitutes.
While the contract with Kelly Services costs the Gulfport schools about 12 percent more for substitute teachers than when the district handled the job themselves, Mr. Hicks believes it is worth it as it allows teachers, principals, and secretaries to focus on their own duties rather than covering for each other. Judy Platt, the manager of the Gulfport office for Kelly Services, claims that her staff has filled nearly all of the 4,000 substitute teacher requests in the past nine months. The company has learned to anticipate high-demand times and actively recruits new substitutes through various channels such as newspaper ads, college postings, and the internet.
Once a contract is signed with a school district, Kelly Services expands the district’s pool of substitute teachers through recruitment methods such as newspaper ads, college postings, and networking with other organizations. The substitutes must meet the minimum standards of the school districts, undergo background checks and training, and are paid according to each district’s scale. The company’s priority is to fill every order they receive. To attract new substitutes, Kelly Services offers health benefits, vacation pay, and other employment opportunities when there are no substitute positions available.
Anticipating Future Challenges
Certain individuals doubt the ability of temporary-staffing agencies to address the issue of substitute-teacher shortages without assistance from school districts. Kathleen Lyons, a spokesperson for the National Education Association, points out that the scarcity of substitute teachers is primarily due to their low wages. Merely hiring a temporary agency will not rectify this problem. While temporary-staffing agencies are relatively new to the substitute-teaching industry in the United States, they have been widely utilized in England. This information comes from Geoffrey G. Smith, the executive director of the Substitute Teaching Institute at Utah State University in Logan. The institute collaborates with Kelly Services to develop training programs for districts and has a contract with them to provide educational training materials. Currently, Kelly Services employs a 20-minute videotape for training purposes, but Mr. Smith anticipates that a 10-hour computer-guided training session will be available to the company by next spring.
Despite Mr. Smith’s belief that temporary agencies provide a viable solution for districts, he acknowledges that they may encounter difficulties when attempting to assume a significant portion of substitute-teacher services. He predicts that more districts will consider this option due to the shortage, but it will not be an easy transition for schools to relinquish control. The attachment and sense of ownership schools have regarding this matter present a significant challenge.