June 3, 2020

The teachers St. Paul students deserve are the kind that show up, but not all do

Need a job? If so, there is a substitute teaching position open in the St. Paul Public Schools that extends from September 2018 to May 31st 2019.

A full school year.

If you’re interested in making $140 a day for managing other people’s children, call Kaite Miller at Teachers On Call (TOC), a staffing agency that provides Midwestern school districts and charter schools with everything from childcare aides to k-12 science teachers.

They look like a friendly company. Their logo is colorful, imperfect, and looks like a high school student made it while in detention. But don’t be fooled by the innocence it projects, TOC is a division of the global staffing titan Kelly Services. If you haven’t heard of them, they did $5.4 billion in business last year.

Their president George Corona earned $3,859,018 in 2017, and $1,0501,064 of that was a bonus for good performance. [hmmm. What’s in your wallet?]

In St. Paul, where the politics are usually left of stupid, where people fancy themselves revolutionaries but look more like carbohydrate enthusiasts, the community is constantly told to follow the money. Be alert and suspicious because corporate monsters are beneath every bed. We should fear the privatization of public schools and call out the privatizers wherever they are (and they are everywhere).

More than anything else, we must resist the de-professionalization of teaching.

On that last note, about the supposed attack on teachers as professionals, the main nemesis is usually Teach For America, an education nonprofit that brings high-scoring college graduates into schools with hard-to-fill positions. Union teachers often roast TFAers as Teach For A While because their stints in public schools are often temporary.

So, it’s curious that the red-shirted faux-Che Gueveras don’t crank the outrage machine over the SPPS district’s use of a global corporation to fill teacher vacancies.

Why are they mum about this outrageous corporatization of public education?

There may be clues in a story by Josh Verges in yesterday’s Pioneer Press.

The story is about a spike in teacher absences that coincides with the contracting of TOC. Per Verges, there has been a 32 percent jump in teacher absences since 2014 when TOC was hired to find substitute teachers.

Here’s the chart showing the uptick:

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 2.41.41 PM

These increases in requests for substitutes cost SPPS $3,958,360 in 2014. Last year that number jumped to $6,701,661.

According to Verges, that was a boon for TOC who collects “27 cents for every dollar the teachers make.”

But Nick Faber, President of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers isn’t bothered.

He told Verges the rise in hooky-playing teachers isn’t because district-funded substitutes are more available, but because….wait for it….the schools are underfunded.

See what he did there?

Stayed on message. Union leaders stereotypically care about three things: money, jobs, and dues.


Only in rhetoric.

Faber reasons “It’s really a pain in the ass to take time off, whether you’re sick or not…It’s sometimes more stress on the body than going to work that day with a cold.”

But that’s a dodge.

The absent teacher issue isn’t only sick teachers. In fact, according to the PiPress article, teachers missed nearly 13,000 teaching days for reasons other than sickness or training.

Verges also points out the rate of teacher absences – 32 percent – is larger than for students, which is 25 percent.

Mind you, after 10 days of missed school parents worry about the threat of being reported to the County social service authorities.

By contrast, after 10 days of missed teaching days a teacher is under threat of getting a publicly-funded pension.

To further see the willful nature of teacher absences, just look to New Mexico where they had some of the highest rates of teacher absenteeism (48% of their teachers had more than 10 absences).  Those rates plummeted in Alberquerque after absences became a factor rated in teacher evaluations.

Also, you might want to read the report Kelly Services did that gave this example: “A new national study shows that more than one-third of public school teachers in North Carolina are chronically absent because of sick days or personal days, at more than twice the rate of teachers in the state’s charter schools.

Why should you care about any of this? Were I a proper writer I would have told you at the start, but the bottom line is that unnecessary teacher absences cost school districts money, and studies also show that these absences impact student achievement.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers is lightning quick about connecting every issue to school funding, but slow about offering up what they can do better. This is clearly an area where they can and must do better, and Faber can’t be a leader if all he does is shrug off something so important to the children of his city.

The students St. Paul’s students deserve are the kind that show up for work and teach like their lives depend on it.

Unfortunately, the teachers they have currently show up mostly when they want to shake down various entities for money.

It’s sad to say, but they’re never too sick for that.



Read this report below by Kelly Educational Services that draws heavily from Linda Darling-Hammond’s work at the Learning Policy Institute, and from other grantees of national teachers’ unions. It’s fascinating because it’s a sly attempt to justify market-based solutions to teacher shortages.

Kelly Services Report – Teacher Shortage by Citizen Stewart on Scribd


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