AP NEWS

Substitutes filling void in New Mexico amid teacher shortage

May 13, 2019
FILE - In this April 3, 2019 file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, seated, with pen, signs legislation to raise teacher salaries and increase annual spending on public schools by almost a half-billion dollars at Salazar Elementary School in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico school districts have become increasingly reliant on substitutes as they contend with growing vacant teaching positions in the state. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico school districts have become increasingly reliant on substitute teachers as they contend with growing vacant teaching positions in the state.

School districts needing to fill vacancies have turned to hiring substitute teachers, particularly long-term substitutes, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reports .

Some have spent years in a classroom as temporary educators.

School district leaders said it’s a necessary step as they deal with hundreds of vacant positions across the state. Still, they express concerns about the challenges that come with hiring substitute teachers who typically are not certified and do not build lesson plans or meet with parents.

At Farmington Municipal Schools in New Mexico’s northwest region, the district’s use of full-time substitutes nearly doubled from 28 in 2014 to 49 in 2018. That fills about half of the district’s vacant positions. The other openings are often covered by a rotating pool of about 241 substitutes.

Las Cruces Public Schools has 20 open teaching positions and 24 substitutes filling full-time positions.

In Carlsbad, the school district has an added challenge. While the average annual salary is $59,000 — about $20,000 higher than the state average — many educators are lured away by higher pay in the oil and gas industry.

Substitutes helped Carlsbad amid the oil and gas boom, an industry that in 2018 generated an about $2 billion revenue surplus for New Mexico.

Interim Superintendent LaVern Shan said Carlsbad Municipal Schools cannot compete with oil and gas jobs that pay as much as $80,000 annually.

A shortage of teachers leaves the district seeking qualified substitutes who can fill the void for months or even years, Shan said.

The Carlsbad district spent $577,853 for 45,727 classroom hours for substitutes in the 2017-2018 school year, according to records obtained by the Current-Argus through an open records request.

Substitute teachers in the district earn $12.74 an hour, which averages out to about $16,000 for the school year.

“Across the state, we do have a teacher shortage,” Shan said. “We have fewer students going into teaching. You want to have a large substitute pool to fill in the gaps. As opportunities grow with other places with salaries, it does have an impact.”

The state had about 740 vacant teaching positions last year, according to a report published by New Mexico State University. That’s more than double the 300 vacancies reported in 2017.

“It’s very scary,” said Susan Brown, dean of the New Mexico State University College of Education. “We just don’t have qualified people in the classroom across the state. It’s a crisis. It really is.”

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Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/