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No progress on substitute fill rate this week

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Editor’s note

Ongoing efforts by the School District and its private provider of substitutes, Source4Teachers, are still failing to have a visible impact on the proportion of empty classrooms being filled across Philadelphia, according to the latest figures.

Incentives designed to encourage teachers to take on substitute positions with Source4Teachers in recent weeks have included adjustments to the pay scale and written invitations to retired teachers. But the fill rate in Philadelphia’s classrooms remained at just 20 percent this week.

As reported Thursday, according to the contract between Philadelphia School District and Source4Teachers, obtained by the Notebook through a Right-to-Know request, the company is only paid for the teachers it successfully places in schools. What’s more, the District reserves the right to terminate its agreement with Source4Teachers without penalty with only 14 days notice.

Although the District has not said it will terminate the contract, Superintendent William Hite has publicly expressed his impatience with Source4Teachers and its failure to meet its promised targets. After last week’s Appropriation Committee meeting at City Council, Hite went as far as to say that he had a “date on my mind that I’m not going to share” at which point the District might terminate the contract.

In the meantime, Source4Teachers has been adjusting its pay scale to give incentive to potential substitutes to apply to the company and accept work in Philadelphia’s School District.

The latest pay scales were not available Friday from the District.

Initially offering a rate of just $140 to retired teachers – who had been able to earn up to $243 under the District’s employment as substitutes – Source4Teachers did increase the pay for retirees to up to $200 per day at the end of September.

However, the maximum rate for certified and uncertified substitute teachers remained lower under the firm’s pay scale than under the previous arrangement.

When the District placed substitutes, an experienced teacher could earn up to $160 each day if certified and $127 if uncertified. But through Source4Teachers, pay maxed out at $140 per diem even for experienced, certified teachers.

In September, asked about why the number of substitutes working for Source4Teachers remained so low, District spokesperson Fernando Gallard told NewsWorks that he “couldn’t say whether the daily rate is the issue here.”

In any case, the adjustments to the pay scale have yet to show a significant effect on the fill rate, which has remained below 30 percent since the beginning of the school year.

However, Gallard emphasized that Friday’s fill percentage of 20 percent – the same as on Friday of last week – reflected a greater actual number of positions this week than last week. The District placed 163 substitutes Friday, while 661 positions went unfilled.

He added that the leveling process, whereby teachers are reassigned within the School District, temporarily increased the number of staff vacancies this week.

The District contract with Source4Teachers is a two-year deal worth up to $34 million, but the company will be getting only a small fraction of its expected monthly gross if the fill rate remains low. The District has said it does not yet have a final invoice from the company for September, the first month’s bill for the work.

Catherine Offord is an intern at the Notebook.

Editor’s note: The School District has clarified that the fill rates they have been reporting to the media are the overall fill rates for substitute positions. These reported fill rates have counted the positions filled by 24 salaried District instructional coaches who have been reassigned as substitutes. The fill rates the Notebook has cited in its coverage thus overstate the fill rate attributable to Source4Teachers by between 3 and 4 percent. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said the District "will use the fill rate attributable to Source4Teachers when reviewing their contract."