Why Denver Substitute Teachers May Prefer to Work at In-N-Out

The pay at In-N-Out
The pay at In-N-Out CBS via YouTube/Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Boulder Valley School District, as well as Adams 12 Five Star Schools and Adams 14, have canceled classes today, November 12, and at least three Denver Public Schools facilities — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, George Washington High School and John H. Amesse Elementary School — are offering remote learning because of staff shortages.

Why is the staffing situation so dire? Educators dealing with these challenges point to ripple effects from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in combination with terrible pay rates for paraprofessionals and substitute teachers, who can sometimes make more money serving burgers at In-N-Out than doing the often difficult, consistently stressful work of educating the next generation of metro residents.

This is no exaggeration: The website estimates the average hourly pay for In-N-Out employees at $17.46 per hour, while a current listing for an Adams 12 paraprofessional (shorthanded as para) on the Top School Jobs site puts the starting rate at $15.78 for what is unquestionably a much harder gig. Moreover, the Adams 12 website lists starting pay for a substitute teacher at $145 per day. That breaks down to $18.13 per hour for eight hours — but as any teacher knows, prep work, grading and more stretch nearly every day well beyond eight hours.

In a statement about its decision to cancel classes today, Adams 12 noted that "the district is seeing unfilled vacancies for multiple positions in multiple departments. This includes special education teachers, nutrition, para educators, Before and After School (BASE), custodial, preschool, transportation, and guest (substitute) teachers. We have a total of 143 vacant positions at this time, with the greatest numbers of vacancies in the para educator and guest teacher categories."

The three districts that have canceled Friday classes are hardly the only ones experiencing such issues — and the educators with whom we spoke say the negative impact on academic quality can be seen in a number of ways. For instance, one notes, some paras doing such subpar work that they would be removed under ordinary circumstances are hanging on to their jobs simply because there's no one to replace them, and a warm body is better than none at all.

In the meantime, the substitute shortage has reached such a crisis level that administrators are often being pressed into fill-in duty when the regular classroom instructor is out sick. With the number of outbreaks at school spiking (thirty new ones were identified in the past week, according to the state health department), the need to do so is apt to increase over the coming months.

As for what could happen next, a source tells Westword that at least one large local district is already weighing the possibility of going remote for the days leading up to Thanksgiving unless the supply of substitutes and paras improves.

That could give parents currently incensed over the mandate that their kids wear masks in schools something else to bitch about: those kids back home.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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