Shortfall in schools across nation could affect local students

School districts across the nation, including the La Crosse area, are having a difficult time finding substitute teachers.

The La Crosse School District said that since 2011, it has seen a significant drop in available subs each year.

The La Crosse School District officials said the substitute teacher shortage is due to what they call a “perfect storm.” Baby boomers are retiring, the economy is improving and post-ACT 10, fewer people are getting into the teaching profession.

In the La Crosse School District and all school districts around the country, substitute teachers are at a premium.

“Typically, I don’t have a difficulty finding substitutes for our elementary positions, but the more specialized that one becomes, the more difficult it is to find a substitute,” said Steve Salerno, La Crosse School District associate superintendent of human resources.

Salerno said retired teachers are filling the gaps when it comes to the substitute teacher shortage, but he said legislation like ACT-10 and the Affordable Care Act are making it difficult for these teachers to work because of income thresholds.

“(The problem is) the impact that people have in earning too much money in order to receive their retirement benefit or to have a health reimbursement benefit arrangement through their employer for retirement,” Solerno said.

Salerno said a solution to the shortage is getting more high school students thinking about the education field before college.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s education program is not seeing a decline in enrollment, but officials there are aware of the substitute shortage.

“In fact, I had two of our area superintendents call me and say, ‘Do you have folks that are new grads who need to get into the classroom because here’s an opportunity and we’re desperate,'” said Sheila Wiskus, director of field experience for the school of education at UWL.

Wirkus said the improving economy is opening the door for more full-time positions, which reduces the number of subs who were not originally able to find work.

Wirkus and Salerno know that while this is good for teachers, it could be tough on students if the problem gets worse.

“If we’re not monitoring this and have our finger on the pulse as we do it could really have a devastating impact on our youth,” Salerno said.

UWL’s education program typically has about 1,000 students each year.

Salerno said the La Crosse School District has heard from districts all around the La Crosse area that they are being affected by the shortage of substitute teachers.