La Crosse area school districts battling substitute teacher shortage in midst of pandemic

School leaders say this is not a new problem, but the ongoing pandemic has made it worse

(WKBT) – Schools in the La Crosse area are facing a big challenge with rising cases of COVID-19.

At the same time, districts are trying to solve another problem — the lack of substitute teachers.

School leaders say this is not a new problem, but the ongoing pandemic has made it worse.

No matter the circumstance these days, Adam Krause is bringing joy to his students every day at West Salem High School.

“I get the opportunity to help them have a better day,” Krause said.

Krause is a first-year teacher, but does have about a year and half’s worth of experience being a substitute.

“This is the first opportunity I got as a teacher,” he said.

But West Salem has lost many subs since Krause began teaching mainly because of the pandemic.

“We used to have a pool, right? And now we just have a little pond, or puddle,” said Crystal Becker, human resources director for the West Salem School District.

Becker says West Salem had more than 100 subs before COVID. More than 30have left.

“We appreciate them,” Becker said. “And the ones that stayed, we really do appreciate them also.”

The Onalaska School District isn’t immune to this problem, either. Sonya Ganther, the district’s human resources director, said the district has lost 85 substitute teachers and paraprofessionals over the past two years.

“If I had that magic understanding, I would be able to find some additional subs,” Ganther said.

Leaders say money isn’t the main issue.

West Salem’s starting substitute teacher pay is $136 a day, and they can make up to $168 a day.

Onalaska schools’ starting pay for subs is $120 a day, but over time, subs can make up to $225 a day.

“We are very competitive with other industries in looking to fill those roles,” Ganther said.

But Becker says people are now starting to send in applications to become subs, and the ones staying the course are enjoying the job.

“Absolutely,” Becker said. “I get very good feedback from everybody.”

And even though Krause isn’t a sub any longer, there’s one reason why he says he couldn’t leave.

“The kids, honestly,” he said.

Both Becker and Ganther say each school district has contacts with all La Crosse colleges to see if any students are interested in subbing after graduating.

School officials also communicate with people who are retired.

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