The D.C. Board of Education voted last week to increase substitute teachers' salaries and to require minimum competency requirements for substitutes. The salary increases are contigent on approval of supplemental funding for the school system, according to School Board Member Betty Ann Kane.
Kane estimated that the salary increases would cost $450,000 to $600,000, and said she was sure if the District could get the needed supplemental funding.
Under the motion approved by the School Board, substitutes, who now earn $30 a day, would be paid on a two-level plan. Substitutes who meet District certification requirements for full-time teachers would earn $45 a day and non-certified substitutes with a bachelor's degree would be paid $40 a day. The last pay raise for substitutes was four years ago.
However, leaders of a group of substitutes say the increases are only part of what they hope will be a successful effort to organize District substitutes into a union.
According to the members of the Steering Committee for D.C. Substitute Teachers, which began organizing the union drive last fall and now includes about 150 teachers, one of the main issues - aside from pay increases - is the status of substitutes who have long-term teaching assignments with the District.
Committee members say that long-term substitures are required to perform all the duties of a regular teacher without the same pay or benefits. The committee has proposed that the Disttrict have a core of substitutes for extended assignments who would receive the same benefits of permanent teachers and the starting salary of a temporary teacher, $11,000 a year.
"We see what we are doing as directly related to qualify education," said Loretta Hobbs-Taylor, an organizer of the committee. "Problems such as overcrowding of classes, lack of discipline, could be greatly minimized through effective use of substitutes."
District substitutes now have none of the benefits of permanent teachers. The salary motion approved by the School Board does not include any benefits.
Steering committee members believe the only way substitute teachers will realize their salary and job goals is to win the right to union representation in contract talks with the School Board. The Washington Teachers' Union, which now represents all District teachers except substitutes, would be their bargaining representative.
Recently the committee began a petition drive to collect enough signatures so that the School Board would authorize an election on the issue. The signatures of 30 percent of the District's 1,200 registered substitutes are required, and Hobbs-Taylor hopes to reach this number in time for an election in May.
But even if the union drive is successful, steering committee members are not sure how the substitutes' proposals will be viewed by the School Board.
Some school officials say the school district would have difficulty accepting the substitutes' salary and job proposals because of financial considerations. For instance, even during long-term assignments, the school system often pays two salaries since the permanent teacher may be entitled to sick leave, according to Louis Diggs, personnel coordinator for substitute placement.
Another problem is that the school district cannot hire a temporary teacher, unless the permanent teacher is on unpaid leave. A teacher may take, say, a one-year leave of absence with pay, but if he gives the school district 30 days' notice, he may return to his job at any time, Diggs said. If a temporary teacher had been the replacement, the school district would have to pay his entire salary. A substitute's salary would stop the day he stopped teaching.
"We make every effort to turn substitute teaching jobs temporary teaching jobs, provided the teacher is qualified and certified in the right area," Diggs said.
He estimated that the city saves about $7,000 per teacher by using substitutes in long-term assignments, but said that costs are not the only reasons substitutes are used.
"It's true it's cheaper . . . but we are not in the business of providing cheap education. We don't encourage the use of subs in long-term vacancies," Diggs said, adding that the school system feels it is better to hire a qualified substitute than an unqualified temporary. Approximately 200 long-term assignments were available this year, Superintendent Vincent Reed told the School Board last fall.
Board Member Kane said that the School Board soon will draft a proposal for the substitutes' salary increases to send to the City Council for its approval.
The board has been grappling with job improvements for substitutes for some time. It has requested pay increases for the past three years but each request has been rejected by Mayor Walter E. Washington.
Last November, after Council Member Marion Barry proposed a $10 increase, the School Board appointed an advisory committee of substitutes, members of the school administration and the finance committee.
At a committee meeting in January, substitutes recommended several changes, including increased salaries and benefits, which later were tabled by the School Board for further sutdy.