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Sioux City Community School District votes to delay discussion of a partnership with an outside staffing agency

Katie Peikes
IPR file
The school board president says he doesn't think the district has done enough on its own to ease the shortage of substitute teachers.

The Sioux City Community School District voted to suspend discussions of hiring an outside staffing agency to address the district’s severe substitute shortage.

In a board meeting on Monday, district leaders voted 4-3 to wait 90 days before deciding to enter into a partnership with ESS, an agency specializing in staffing. The Knoxville, Tennessee-based company has worked with more than 800 school districts nationwide.

President of the board Dan Greenwell said he doesn’t think the school district has done enough on its own. He said the district should raise temporary instructors’ compensation before considering a contract with ESS.

“We are not competitive. Why are we throwing in the towel and saying outsourcing is our manna and our solution for this problem when we really haven’t tried anything ourselves?” Greenwell said.

Substitute teacher compensation rates in surrounding school districts currently surpass the wages of Sioux City Community School District. The district raised its daily pay by $5 this year, but Greenwell said he believes more needs to be done.

The outside agency’s retirement benefits were also a major factor in delaying a vote. Beth Armstrong, a current substitute teacher, opposed the partnership with ESS.

She said she’s worried about how the partnership would impact her state retirement benefits, known as IPERS.

“I can tell you that you will lose subs if you switch to this company. I’ve been told by many of them ‘I’ll go to Hinton, I’ll go to Sergeant Bluff, I’ll do something’ because we don’t want to lose our IPERS,” said Armstrong, who has taught in the district for more than 20 years.

Other district leaders worry that breaking off talks with the staffing agency will only delay help for teachers struggling. Board Director Monique Scarlett, who voted against the delay, said action needed to be taken immediately.

“It’s like saying I want help, I’m drowning, but I’ll wait for the next boat to come in 90 days,” Scarlett said. “As this boat continues to sink, where is the lifeline for our teachers?”

Greenwell proposed cutting instructional rounds for teachers and placing more administrators into the classrooms.

A survey of the district found over 83 percent of qualified administrators are already acting as substitutes in the classroom, said Superintendent Paul Gausman.

Gausman said he doesn’t believe raising compensation alone will be enough to stem the shortage.

“I’m of the belief that we can’t continue to wait,” he said.

If none of the proposed solutions work, the board could revisit the partnership in February.

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