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District's teacher vacancy problem persists; sub fill rate inches up

  • source4teachers contract




Midway into the school year, the School District’s teacher situation is still a mess.

For one thing, it has 184 teacher vacancies, more than twice the number at this time last year.

Though the company hired to provide substitute service is gradually improving its daily “fill rate,” it is still struggling to reach the levels it promised last summer when it was retained by the School Reform Commission.

Throughout January, Source4Teachers had daily “fill rates” ranging from 35 to 45 percent. On most days, it was above 40 percent.

But Source4Teachers had promised a 70 percent fill rate in September and a 90 percent fill rate by January.

Spokesman Owen Murphy said that the company is ratcheting up its hiring for Philadelphia and said that the fill rate for Thursday was 57 percent. The Notebook could not immediately confirm that number with the District.

If that number is is accurate, that means Source4Teachers has finally reached the fill-rate level that the District mustered when it handled the substitute pool. That performance, officials said, was poor enough to lead to the outsourcing in the first place. 

According to Source4Teachers' contract, the firm "guaranteed" a 90 percent fill rate. If it failed to hit its targets, the firm said, it would work with the District "to determine the penalties.” Superintendent William Hite said that the firm is swallowing the cost of reimbursing teachers for lost preparation periods.

“We’re making great strides in our recruitment efforts,” said Murphy. “We’ve been hosting not just career fairs ... but a number of group interviews and hiring events that have yielded us significant growth in our Philadelphia talent pool.”

The vacancies, some due to long-term illness and sabbaticals, are also having an impact on daily life at schools, where teachers must scramble to cover empty classrooms. The students might or might not get a fill-in who is qualified to teach the subject.

Originally, the District hired Source4Teachers to find both long-term and per-diem substitutes. But last fall, with few of these long-term substitute positions filled, the District took back that task from the Cherry Hill-based firm, while leaving it to find the per-diem fill-ins. The Source4Teachers fill rate does not cover the empty classrooms caused by the inability to find a full-time teacher.

Some schools have multiple vacancies. Strawberry Mansion High, a school with less than 400 students, has five positions not yet permanently filled; Edison High has six.

Northeast High, with more than 3,000 students and 150 teachers, has six vacancies. But it started the year with more and, because of the gaps and complicated rostering, some students went for months without permanent teachers in more than one subject.

Here is the District's teacher vacancy list.

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Dale Mezzacappa

Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.