La Crosse area school districts facing shortage of substitute teachers, COVID not helping

LA CROSSE, Wis./LA CRESCENT, Minn. (WKBT) – Schools in our area that are doing either in-person or virtual learning face the same challenge — the lack of substitute teachers.

“It’s always been a difficult issue to get some,” La Crescent-Hokah schools superintendent Kevin Cardille said. “That’s been around forever.”

Cardille says the goal is to have more than 10 subs, but they are short of that number.

“We’re scrambling,” Cardille said. “We have teachers filling in. We have other things going on, or principals that might stay in the classroom.”

COVID is further exposing the district’s problem of not having enough subs.

“Some subs are, you know, retired teachers from the past,” Cardille said. “And they’re just not willing to take this challenge, you know, risk of coming in.”

A couple weeks ago, 10 staff members in the middle and high school were exposed.

“And so we had to shut down,” Cardille said. “We didn’t have enough subs to be able to cover that.”

Even the La Crosse School District might not have enough subs to cover if they experience an outbreak.

“That’s absolutely a concern of ours,” School District of La Crosse superintendent Dr. Aaron Engel said.

Engel says the district averages 150 subs in their pool every year, but that isn’t enough.

“I would say that it is not an adequate amount,” Engel said. “Often times, substitute teachers work in multiple districts. And we’re competing with area schools for those same teachers.”

And this year, there are fewer subs to choose from.

“When we did our initial substitute teacher meeting, we saw we were down 20 percent,” Engel said.

Engel says once La Crosse schools return to class, the risk of exposure to staff is pretty low.

“We know the guidelines to ensure that staff members are not close contacts of a positive case,” Engel said.

Otherwise any exposure requires staff to quarantine for two weeks, which is something Cardille hopes doesn’t keep happening often.

“You know, we can’t control people that are sick and have to stay out,” Cardille said. “That’s just the way things go. And so, our goal would be that we aren’t short of any subs.”

Cardille says La Crescent-Hokah students in grades five through 12 will return to the school’s hybrid learning model next Monday.