© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sioux City Community School District looks to staffing agency to address substitute shortage

Katie Peikes
IPR file
The Sioux City district's human resource director says the system is short more than 200 substitute positions this year.

Sioux City Community School District is considering hiring an outside company, ESS, to help stem its severe substitute teacher shortage.

Similar to many school districts across the state, the western Iowa school district is struggling to recruit and retain temporary instructors. If approved by the school board, the professional educational staffing agency would work to provide more incentives for substitute teachers to work with the district.

“This has risen to the level of what I would call a crisis,” Gausman said. “Our staff are overworked. They’re really stressed.”

Katie Peikes
IPR file
Sioux City Community School District Superintendent Paul Gausman said he believes ESS could help alleviate stress from the district's teachers.

The district’s director of human resources Jen Gomez said the district is short over 200 substitute positions, working with only 70 percent of the amount of teaching professionals needed. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the substitute fill rate hit almost as low as 50 percent.

The district has recovered some, but its current recruitment strategy isn’t working, she said. Gomez said she doesn’t want to see educators continue to put in additional hours.

“They’re working extra. So there are teachers working during their plan time to cover classes. They’re working together, they’re working as a team, but they’re getting tired and we really need to help them out,” Gomez said.

The district would be the first in the state of Iowa to pair with ESS. The staffing agency has worked with more than 800 school districts nationwide.

School board president Perla Alarcon-Flory said the district can give greater incentives and rewards to substitute teachers through a private company.

“I have heard from other districts that they are doing amazing things for the personnel and making those substitutes feel really special,” said Alarcon-Flory. “We would want to give them things, but we need to justify to our taxpayers why we are giving them gifts, and drawings and prizes.”

"The stress is really created by the unknown conditions they face on a day to day basis. That’s, frankly, a pretty hard way for anyone to work.”
Tom Drzycimski, Human Resources Director for Mason City School District

The company would be paid for the amount of substitute positions it fills. The agency would offer additional training, health insurance and retirement benefits for eligible employees.

The district’s decision to look for outside assistance comes after raising daily compensation rates by $5 for its substitute teachers. The district is considering continuing to modify compensation, but district leaders aren’t sure it will have much of an effect.

“We bumped [the pay] up, but guess what happened?” Alacon-Flory said. “Other districts saw where we were and bumped [their pay] up. We look like we didn’t do enough, but in reality we came first in bumping up the pay and we were surpassed.”

The Sioux City Community School District board of education will hold a public hearing about the agency partnership on Monday. If the board votes to approve the partnership, ESS could start as early as January to fill positions.

A statewide issue

Substitute staffing shortages is an issue for many school districts across the state. In severe cases, some school districts or individual schools have been forced to shut down for a day or two due to lack of available teachers.

The substitute fill rate at Mason City School District in western Iowa sits at around 50 percent. Human Resources Director Tom Drzycimski said it’s been challenging to have 45 active substitutes for a teaching staff of 300.

Teachers in the school district have had to split up classes to cope with the shortage, said Drzycimski. Other times, instructional coaches or teachers in different subject areas are moved to make up for absent staff.


“The staff doesn’t know what the day will bring. Whether they’ll be pulled out of their normal classroom, whether they’ll have 50 percent more students in their classroom today than they normally do. The stress is really created by the unknown conditions they face on a day to day basis,” Drzycimski said. “That’s, frankly, a pretty hard way for anyone to work.”

Iowa legislators aimed to address some of the issues faced by schools last legislative session.

The state voted to permanently ease some requirements for who can become a substitute teacher.

The bill allowed for the Board of Educational Examiners to allow those with an associate’s degree or at least 60 credit hours towards a 4-year degree to become temporary substitute teachers, upon the completion of the substitute authorization course. 

While this measure has widened the pool of applicants, Drzycimski said Mason City School district continues to struggle to recruit enough staff.

“Our district has a lot of committed teachers who are willing to do what is going to be best for the students in our district,” said Drzycimski. “We definitely appreciate that, but it’s not something we want to take advantage of on a regular basis.”

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.