9 Investigates

How prevalent are permanent substitutes in our schools?

ORLANDO, Fla. — When your children head back to school in a few weeks, will they have a certified teacher in the classroom?

9 Investigates the prevalence of permanent substitutes in local districts, and found some schools even posting ads to hire what are typically temporary teachers full-time.

Investigative Reporter Karla Ray looked into how the state’s teacher shortage is leading to tens of millions of dollars being spent on substitutes every year.

When one of Osceola County’s newest schools opened last year, 9 Investigates uncovered Tohopekaliga High was staffed with several substitutes working nearly full-time hours.  One of those substitutes clocked the most days of any in the county, with 169 out of 180 total instructional days.  Three others at the same school spent more than 100 days in the classroom.

In Seminole County, we found a substitute worked 120 days at Jackson Heights Middle, which is the same number of days a different temporary teacher worked at Lyman High.

None of the substitutes described above held teacher certifications.

“We believe that every student should have a certified teacher in the classroom,” Orange County Teacher Association President Wendy Dormoral said.

Though other districts provided us the most comprehensive information about the use of substitutes, Orange County Teacher Association President Wendey Dormoral says that permanent substitutes are being used everywhere, due to a statewide teacher shortage.

“It affects their learning, of course, because we would like to have a qualified expert in front of every student, every day,” Dormoral said.

9 Investigates found it’s costing you tens of millions every year to staff schools with substitutes.

Volusia County Schools spent more than $5-million placing substitutes in the 2018/2019 school year.

Seminole, Brevard, and Osceola Counties hovered between $3-4-million.

Lake, which is the only district that requires its substitutes be certified, spent the least at $2.5-million, with an average of 84 substitutes working more than 30 hours each week.

Orange County, by far the largest district in Central Florida, spent more than $20-million to place substitutes through third-party company Kelly Services.  The district couldn’t tell us how many placements that represented or which schools substitutes worked in.

“It is a state responsibility to actually pay our teachers, and then give them the autonomy they need to be effective in the classroom,” Orange County School Board member Karen Castor-Dentel said.

Some Orange County charter schools are outright advertising for full-time substitutes.  Those positions list a requirement of a degree, but the state only requires substitutes hold a high school diploma.

“You need to have adequate training, we cannot fill our classrooms cheap with substitutes.  That just doesn't move our children forward, that's not a solution,” Castor-Dentel said.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.