Leslye Janusz never saw herself as an entrepreneur. But five years ago, she left a career as an educational consultant and gambled on a business idea that came to her after her daughter stayed home sick one day from her job as a teacher's assistant at a preschool.
Janusz, 50, saw that private schools had no organized system to get substitute teachers, and in 1987 she started Teachers On Reserve, a temporary agency that dispatches substitutes to schools that need them. Her company, based in Woodland Hills, has served about 300 schools around the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, of which about 225 call for help on a regular basis.
She maintains a roster of 75 to 95 teachers with varying specialties, from high school biology to special education, and runs the business out of a small office with the help of one full-time and two part-time employees.
Teachers On Reserve's rate schedule is based on the type of instructor needed. Schools pay from $9.05 per hour for a preschool assistant teacher to $18.90 for a special-education instructor. The teacher receives about 75% of the hourly rate and Janusz's company gets the rest.
Revenues for Teachers On Reserve have grown from $80,000 in the first year to $600,000 in 1991, but the high payroll costs involved in running a temporary agency trimmed last year's pretax profit to $150,000, Janusz said. The business has turned a profit since its inception, Janusz said, and this year revenues are up slightly from 1991. The company is trying to expand with an Orange County office that opened in March.
Janusz has some loyal customers. "They've helped us out of some tough spots," said Barbara Nusz, a staff assistant at the Ericksen Center in Reseda, who regularly calls on Teachers On Reserve to fill in for sick staff members. "We've even hired full-time teachers who came to us as substitutes from them."
"The biggest advantage in using the service is they go out of their way to find the people that match our school," said Alaina Smith, a substitute coordinator with the Country Day School in North Hollywood. "The teachers who come in know our program, which is important. They're very prepared."
Janusz had worked as a preschool teacher and administrator and was familiar with the problem of finding substitutes. "The public schools have an organized system that places substitute teachers, while private schools create their own lists of possible substitutes from resumes sent in by people who want to teach there. They are often not kept up-to-date and getting someone to take over a class on short notice can be difficult."
With a bachelor's degree in child development from Cal State Northridge and a master's in human development from Pacific Oaks College, Janusz had never had an interest in business before but she thought the substitute service had potential. "My problem was I had no model to follow. What I wanted to start was basically a specialized temporary employment agency, and I knew absolutely nothing about how a successful agency ran."
After making some unproductive phone calls to temporary agencies to find out about their operating procedures, Janusz went to some agencies and asked if they had any brochures about temporary employment that she could give another daughter, who would be looking for work during her summer vacation from college.
She completed her own marketing survey by randomly calling schools to find out if they could use a service like hers. "I knew that in the public school system 5% of the teachers are absent on any given day, and that figure must be about the same for the private schools. In talking to the schools, I found that finding substitutes was a real headache."
Janusz approached her mother, Lela Fizdale, who served as a bookkeeper for Janusz's late father's tabletop manufacturing business, and asked for help. "She had a couple of empty bedrooms in her home in Woodland Hills that she offered as office space, and she knew how to do the accounting and payroll." Her mother also believed in the idea enough to invest $50,000 to handle start-up costs.
"Most of the money took care of payroll in the beginning, since the schools generally pay from 30 to 45 days after the teacher's been there," she said. "I wanted to be able to pay the teachers weekly, since they're working on a temporary basis and it's important for them to have a check each week."
In January, 1987, Janusz's venture began operations. Advertisements were placed in newspapers for teachers, and brochures detailing the service were sent to preschools throughout the Valley.
Janusz realized early on that she had misread the market for her company. "I had always seen the business as serving mainly preschools and child-care programs. But within a few months, we began to get calls from private elementary, special education and high schools for teachers."