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Billboard spells out urgency of substitute teacher shortage

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A billboard at Goshen Rd. and Coliseum Blvd. advertises the need for more substitute teachers and other school staffing personnel to fill openings during the pandemic.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - High-profile marketing campaigns are popping up around the area, promoting the need to identify and hire more substitute teachers for burdened public schools.

A billboard now on display at Goshen Road and Coliseum Boulevard in northwest Fort Wayne reads, "Now more than ever--Smith-Green Community Schools need you!

The ad focusing on the school district headquartered in Churubusco lays out that "Guest (or substitute) teachers & support positions (are) available."

Back in August, a similar billboard drawing attention to the shortage of sub teachers across the state went up on U.S. 30 between Fort Wayne and Columbia City.

Back in 2013, a study found 48 percent of schools nationwide reported dealing with a severe or somewhat severe shortage of sub teachers.

Now, new concerns tied to the pandemic are making the challenges of finding enough substitute teachers even more difficult, as candidates for the modest paying positions must consider whether they'll be exposing themselves and their families to a greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus by stepping into classrooms.

"We have had concerns in the area of having enough staffing long before COVID ever came and entered. This just exacerbated it for us and I think a lot of communities feel that same way in terms of school communities," said Lizette Downey, the chief communications officer for Northwest Allen County Schools.

"A lot of times you have retired teachers who sub after they retire and this year if you're a retired teacher, and you maybe have a compromised health condition or you're just older, you're not going to want to get in there and sub like you used to. So a big pool of people who typically want to sub aren't subbing anymore," said Sandra Vohs, the president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, the union representing teachers for Fort Wayne Community Schools.

Daniel Hile, the superintendent of Smith-Green Community Schools, which is referenced in the new billboard, also emphasizes that public education staffing challenges are not brand new, but he says the pandemic has certainly made the situation worse.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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