The company hired to place substitute teachers in Philadelphia was supposed to improve its lagging performance and fill half of all daily vacancies by Friday.

But Source4Teachers fell short, again, finding educators for just 19 percent of classrooms missing their teachers Friday. The day before: 22 percent.

The company has never come close to the 75 percent it promised the Philadelphia School District by the first day of classes when it signed its $34 million contract.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has put Source4Teachers on notice that it has to do better.

"We've been disappointed from the onset with their inability to get individuals in schools," Hite said. "It is our expectation that they do much better than they're doing now."

Owen Murphy, Source4Teachers spokesman, said the company was "encouraged by the progress we're making."

The company has struggled all year, beginning the term by filling about 11 percent of open substitute-teaching jobs.

At the district's direction, Source4Teachers is making an all-out pitch to attract more subs: upping the pay it's offering to something closer to the rates offered by the district in the past; covering the cost of background checks and emergency certifications; streamlining its hiring process; and hiring more staff to recruit and process workers.

The Cherry Hill-based company also now is paying expenses incurred when schools with unfilled vacancies require teachers to cover classes during their prep periods.

In the meantime, the district also is pulling workers from other areas to pitch in. Employees from its Office of Effectiveness - master educators typically working as teacher coaches - have been diverted to fill vacancies and work as long-term substitutes until the end of October.

Hite also will be reaching out to teachers who have retired in the last three years, writing them a letter imploring that they work as substitutes in city classrooms.

Source4Teachers officials had said that they did not believe the lower pay rates they were offering contributed to the sub shortage, but district officials clearly say otherwise.

The company is now offering $110 daily for certified teachers and $200 daily for long-term subs; the district paid $160.10 for credentialed subs once they passed through an initial trial period. Retired teachers, under the old system, earned a premium, making up to $242.83 daily. Source4Teachers offers no such premium.

Murphy, the Source4Teachers spokesman, said he was "hopeful" that the efforts would work, drawing in particularly those teachers who have worked for the district in the past but have not done so this year.

"Source4Teachers remains committed to this partnership and we look forward to soon reaching the fill rates the district requires and the students deserve," Murphy said in a statement.

Kendra-Lee Rosati, the district's acting human resources chief, said that having a 50 percent fill rate by Friday was not a concrete deadline that triggers firm consequences for the company, but a guideline to help steer the firm's work.

"We are working with them to strategically prioritize how they're spending their time," Rosati said.

The next guideline: Source4Teachers is expected to reach a 75 percent fill rate by the end of the month.

Hite said he was surprised by Source4Teachers' struggles, and said that he's put the company, which said it would get to a 90 percent fill rate by January, on notice.

"This cannot go on in perpetuity until such time as they can succeed," the superintendent said. "We're not going to be able to do this for a long period of time. It's going to have to improve, or we're going to have to find a different solution. This is impacting other work."

After years of handling sub services in house, the district outsourced the work in the spring, saying that it was unable to effectively manage them any longer. On the district's watch, about 60 percent of substitute jobs were filled daily, a rate officials found unacceptable.

Hite said it was critically important that people step up to help get classroom vacancies filled.

"This is a call to action," he said. "It's going to take multiple groups to solve this problem. This is something we all have to get behind and do."

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