2017-04-13 / Front Page

Substitute Shortage Leaves Six Classes Uncovered

By James Merolla

Gaudet Middle School Principal Beth Hayes admitted to the School Committee at its monthly meeting that six classrooms were not covered by teachers on Tuesday, April 11. She also said that “eight to nine” substitutes were in place at the school covering other absent teachers.

That night, the Middletown School Committee unanimously voted to raise the compensation for substitute teachers from $70 to $90 per day, effective immediately.

Hayes said that a flu outbreak was part of the cause for the lack of teachers. She said that the assistant principal and guidance counselors had to cover classes. However, she admitted that students in several classes watched movies, adding, “Clearly, [it was] not a good situation for the kids.”

“It has been an unbelievably difficult year to fill our [teaching] positions,” School Supt. Rosemarie Kraeger said. “And that’s an understatement.”

Qualified substitutes are difficult to find in every town, officials said. To add to the substitute list, Kraeger raised the possibility of bringing back retired teachers and even “getting emergency certifications for some of our parents who are not certified, but who have a bachelor’s degree.”

“This is typical every day,” Kraeger said. “We would like to have this [pay] raise used as a pilot to see if we can get more substitutes to the island, to see if it works and to try to get our classrooms filled with certified teachers. This is a statewide problem.”

The pay raise is the first in many years for substitute teachers, she said. Substitute teachers were being paid $70 per day, $75 after 31 days and $80 after 61 days. Newport pays the same rate, while Tiverton is paying $85 per day and Portsmouth $90. If a Portsmouth substitute remains in the same assignment for 10 days, the pay rises to $140 per day. In other news …

The School Committee voted unanimously to raise the price of school hot lunches 10 cents next fall. High school and middle school lunches would rise to $2.95, with elementary school lunches increasing to $2.70.

School Committee member Theresa Silveira Spengler had no issue with the increase, but said “There needs to be food on those plates.”

She said there have been complaints about the portions and that students, especially those who have after-school games, are still hungry following lunch.

“If it’s not enough [food], they go back and buy something else,” she said. “Some of these kids eat at 10 a.m. and they need to have a lot of food on their plates.”

The School Committee said it would arrange a meeting with Chartwells, Middletown’s school lunch provider, to discuss portions, rules and regulations.

Finally, University of Rhode Island professor Cheryl McCarthy made an impassioned plea to restore a middle school librarian position, which Kraeger said would cost approximately $100,000.

“Students at Gaudet need to be prepared for high school. They need access to accurate information. An appropriate middle school librarian is instrumental in this transition,” McCarthy said.

She said that many students in the middle school “will never have stepped into a library,” and “have unmet needs,” and argued that Middletown must comply with state law requiring that school districts give students “equitable access to information.”

Spengler said these so-called “unmet needs” were a concern to the School Committee and that they painstakingly look at every line item in the budget with “a fine-toothed comb.”

The School Committee will meet with the Town Council on Friday, April 28 to finalize the school budget.

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