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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

Office Temp Service Wants to Recruit Substitute Teachers

March 14, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kelly Services, a staffing agency and recruiter, is widening its scope from the office building to the classroom, counting on a substitute teacher shortage to make its temps valuable in more places than just behind the computer.

Troy, Mich.-based Kelly has begun meeting with some Ventura County school districts to sell them on a plan to take over substitute teaching duties at schools hurting for help.

"We have the presence to help solve the problem," said Teresa Setting, director of product management at Kelly. "School districts are struggling on their own. What we do best is recruiting."

The agency launched the program at the end of last year, and Kelly says it already has 200 school districts signed up, mostly in the South and Midwest, where the company is based.

Kelly doesn't yet have any school districts in the program in California, but company officials say they are close in several districts.

At the Oxnard school district--where there is a pool of about 200 substitutes--officials confirmed that they have met with the company about substitutes but say they aren't close to making a decision until they get more information.

Although the program is still in its infancy, some Ventura County districts--especially those outside the major population centers--say they could use the help.

In 1996, California began reducing class sizes, an initiative that created a high demand for new teachers and thinned the ranks of substitute teachers looking for full-time work.

"It was like 'Oops, there went your pool,' " said Paul Tonello, assistant principal at Santa Paula High School, where he oversees substitute teachers.

In Santa Paula, administrators must take over classrooms when there aren't enough subs to go around. In Fillmore, classes have been dispersed and filtered into other classrooms--whatever the grade level may be. And some, like Oak Park Unified, have had to raise their rates to lure substitutes into the classroom.

"If we could get an assured good crop of candidates, I'm sure it would be worth it," said Susan Dollar, director of personnel in the Fillmore school district, which has not been contacted by Kelly. "The manpower we spend just calling up a group of people is staggering. Secretaries sometimes spend hours."

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The substitutes would be employees of Kelly Services--and would receive the standard pay for a district, ranging from $77 a day in Ojai to $100 in the Conejo Valley and Simi Valley--and the school district would pay the base salary plus fees to the staffing agency.

The prices typically even out to what a district is paying for substitutes after recruiting costs are taken into account, Kelly contends.

Schools typically recruit by placing want ads or relying on word of mouth. Tonello said he got six responses to his last ad for the Santa Paula school district.

Many educators said they weren't bothered by the privatization process--which mostly comes down to a matter of recruiting. Some simply wondered why this hadn't happened yet.

"With the teacher shortage, it's a really critical issue," Dollar said. "I guess no one thought it was lucrative enough to consider a business enterprise. Until now."

But many are reserving judgment about this proposal until they see whether a temp agency--associated largely with office help--is up to the task of providing people who can handle a classroom full of children.

They wonder if the temps it recruits can pass California's relatively stringent requirements for substitute teachers: a bachelor's degree and passing the CBEST test--or if they can handle the fingerprinting required of every substitute.

In other areas--especially in the east county, where there tend to be more college-educated stay-at-home mothers interested in part-time work--administrators say it's an answer to a problem that doesn't exist.

"These kinds of things have been explored by some schools," said Cary Dritz, assistant superintendent of personnel services at Simi Valley Unified. "This is an area that's easier to go outside and recruit than others."

Kelly Services says that, for the most part, temps are easily trained to be substitute teachers. Some will likely be retired teachers, and many will come from a school's current pool. Those recruited from other arenas will be required to watch a video about handling a classroom.

Schools then can concentrate on teaching, Kelly officials said, while the staffing agency concentrates on recruiting and managing.

"The school districts have their own, separate pools," said Larry Bumpus, who would manage the local effort for Kelly, should schools enlist. "We would have one database."

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And the substitute teachers would have an opportunity at other jobs, which could keep them tided over between teaching jobs. Even more, it could open up a whole new world to people who might never consider it.

"You could walk in looking for a temp job," said Marty Rome, a spokesman for Kelly. "You could walk out a substitute teacher."

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