Looking for a few thousand substitute teachers

philly kid and principal 600
File photo: Tilden Middle School principal Brian Johnson speaks with Mikkel Moody, a sixth-grader, during a 2014 classroom visit at the Southwest Philly school. The firm hired to staff Philadelphia School District substitute-teaching jobs has a pressing need: hiring 5,000 qualified people, as soon as possible.

The firm hired to staff Philadelphia School District substitute-teaching jobs has a pressing need: hiring 5,000 qualified people, as soon as possible.

To achieve that goal, prepare for an onslaught of advertising - billboards on I-95, posters in train stations and other high-visibility areas - trolling for people looking for "flexible and fulfilling part-time work in education."

When a Cherry Hill-based firm recently hired by the district won the $34 million contract to fill sub jobs, it promised it would staff 90 percent of all openings by January. Previously, the district had run substitute services, and managed only a 60 percent "fill rate."

To date, about 600 of the 1,100 substitutes who had worked for the district previously have applied to work for Source4Teachers, spokesman Owen Murphy said. Three hundred people who have never worked for the district also have raised their hands.

Murphy said he was not concerned that less than two weeks before school starts, Source4Teachers has hit just 18 percent of its goal.

"We're making very significant progress," he said. "We're pretty pleased with the pace at which things are moving."

Traditionally, the company sees a spike in applicants leading up to the school year, Murphy said. Philadelphia is the largest client to date of the company founded in South Jersey in the early 2000s, but it also does work in about 220 districts regionally, plus school systems in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Outsourcing substitutes was controversial, drawing criticism from officials including City Controller Alan Butkovitz and Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

And there has been concern, particularly from Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials and retired teachers, over the pay scale being offered by Source4Teachers.

Under the district system, once uncertified substitutes passed through an initial trial period, they were paid $126.76 per day and certified subs were paid $160.10. Retired Philadelphia teachers were paid up to $242.83 per day.

Source4Teachers is offering a daily rate of $75 to $90 for uncertified subs and $90 to $110 for certified subs, whether they are retired teachers or not. The company offers health-care and retirement benefits, which were not available to substitutes under district management.

Murphy said Source4Teachers' rates were more in line with pay rates in surrounding districts, and that the company had the ability to be more creative in paying subs, rewarding those who work often and are well regarded.

"I think we're getting back to a more reasonable pay structure, that we're getting to a point where we're paying market rate, and I think people can appreciate that," Murphy said. "A lot of these teachers are not in it for the money. They find themselves missing teaching, and have caught up on all the books they want to read, and now they crave being back in the classroom."

To staff up quickly, Source4Teachers has launched "Philly5000," a four-month campaign that will blanket the area with ads that play up not just its role in creating jobs in the region but also the social value of teaching.

You'll see Source4Teachers billboards if you drive by Lincoln Financial Field, catch a train at Suburban Station, or happen to spot an ad in any number of places inside Philadelphia and out. Some ads even ran this summer at the Jersey Shore, with planes trailing banners touting Source4Teachers.

"This is the perfect opportunity for aspiring teachers hoping to get a foot in the door and community members looking to make a positive impact on Philadelphia's children," David Gold, Source4Teachers CEO, said in a statement.


kgraham@phillynews.com

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@newskag

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