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Classroom vacancies force WCCUSD teachers into period-subbing, risking burnout

on October 16, 2023

Teachers in the West Contra Costa Unified School District started the year having to fill in for each other, as schools opened with teacher positions vacant. 

Along with their regular classes, some teachers have had to fill in for shortages by subbing during certain periods. 

This period-subbing would have otherwise been spent grading and preparing for their own classes, said Mitzi Perez-Caro, a computer science and journalism teacher at John F. Kennedy High School. 

Teachers receive extra pay for period-subbing, $100 for 80 minutes and $50 for 36 minutes, said Kumi Yanagihara, a science teacher at JFK. And while they are compensated for period-subbing, teachers struggle to manage the ripple effect it has on their schedules.

Perez-Caro said school administrations pressure teachers to period-sub, and because teachers can only sub during their assigned prep periods, she often has to take work home to prepare for the next day’s classes. Students are impacted by the inconsistency. One Spanish class at JFK High School has as many as six different teachers on a rotating basis, she said.

Even a few vacancies can impact the system, causing teachers to be overworked, said John Zabala, United Teachers of Richmond president.

“There are people in the district who are sort of doing 120% of their job responsibilities right now, and they’ve been doing it for years frankly, since the start of COVID,” Zabala said. “We try to fill the gaps through alternative payments and compensation, but the problem with that is that it really starts to burn those people out.” 

Even in schools where there aren’t as many vacancies, newer teachers are carrying heavy workloads and sacrificing professional development to do more than their fair share, he said. 

District spokesperson Liz Sanders did not respond to Richmond Confidential’s multiple requests for comment via phone and email.

‘Tsunami’ coming

According to a WCCUSD human resources report, last year, the district had 143 teacher vacancies — 40 elementary, 70 secondary and 33 special education. At the start of this year,  the district had 75 teacher vacancies — 36 elementary, 21 secondary and 18 special education.

The problem isn’t new, and in the past year, the district has taken steps to address it. Last spring, the district and teachers union agreed on a contract that increased teacher salaries by 14.5% over two years, making the district more competitive amid a national teacher shortage. It also hosted recruiting events to draw applicants. 

There is a silver lining in the extra money that teachers can make period-subbing. Yanagihara, who said there has been a need for period subs every day in her three years with the district, uses the compensation to make ends meet and to afford visits with family overseas. 

“Especially my first year when I wasn’t teaching an extra class and I had two normal preps, I was subbing like as much as I could, just to fluff up my paycheck,” Yanagihara said.

She is conflicted on the issue, she said, because filling teaching positions would reduce her workload, but it also would limit opportunities to earn extra pay.

Zabala said the staffing problem is likely to get worse, as the union estimates 40% of its membership is set to retire in the next 10 years. 

To curb the coming “tsunami” of shortages, California lawmakers have proposed a plan to keep retired staff on part time.

Zabala said that won’t solve the structural problem in public education that makes teaching an unattractive profession to so many people. 

Grappling with staff shortage, WCCUSD hires nonprofit to provide substitute teachers

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