GREEN  Obtaining a substitute for bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers is sometimes a challenge for Green Local Schools administrators.

Green Schools Director of Operations Wendall Jackson said the district is always looking for substitutes, adding that the biggest challenge is getting subs to work in the cafeteria and custodians. And it's a problem that is not only facing Green, as Jackson said many districts across the state also are struggling to find subs.

Coventry Schools Director of Facilities Jon Hibian said the lack of subs has been an ongoing problem in Coventry, too. Hibian said perfect attendance by several employees has helped the district not need any more subs.

"Some people say we don’t pay enough, but you pay what you can afford," Hibian said.

Hibian said it has been consistently hard to get subs for the district, but he doesn’t know if this year is any worse than prior years.

Green Schools Superintendent Jeff Miller said the lack for subs is partly due to the economy improving and many people finding full-time jobs.

CAFETERIA WORKERS

Green Primary School is the busiest school in the Green Local School District when it comes to the number of lunches served each day. The school averages 175 breakfasts and between 350 and 380 lunches daily. On the busiest day this year, the school served 502 lunches.

The school has a manager, two six-hour workers and six three-hour workers.

Green Primary School Cafeteria Manager Teresa Case said a third six-hour person would be helpful to getting the job done each day. Case said from November to the end of February, the school was short one three-hour person until someone was hired.

A public records request was obtained by The Suburbanite for all the attendance records for cafeteria workers for the months of January, February and March. The records show that 89 percent of the time cafeteria workers were off, Green Schools got a substitute. The records failed to include the first week of January and also did not account for the open three-hour position at Green Primary School.

Case, who has been at the primary school for nine years, said the kitchen has stations and every one is filled when there is a full staff. She said when the kitchen was short one person earlier this year, she had to fill in the empty slot.

"It was a challenge for everyone trying to get out on time," Case said.

She said it just isn’t her kitchen that is struggling, as many other ones in the district have been short-handed, too.

"There are currently five subs for the cafeterias and three of them won’t come (to Green Primary) because it is too busy and is too much work," Case said.

When the cafeterias are short workers and there isn’t a substitute, foam trays are used and the dish room is only used for pots and pans.

Green Schools Food Supervisor Amie Payne said kids will always get fed even when kitchens are short. Payne said the start of the year was tough as the district had five full-time food service positions open.

"It has been rough all year until present," Payne said. "The ladies have done a fabulous job making sure the children get fed."

Case believes that substitutes aren’t coming to Green because of the pay rates.

"The people on the list are checking to see what openings other schools have first," Case said.

She also believes subs get to pick and choose too much of where they get to go.

"When I was a sub, you got called, and they said you go this school, and you went," Case said.

Case said the cafeteria has also lost a lot of people to become aids in the district because they make more money.

"I just have to do what my boss says," Case said. "I voice my concerns at the manager’s meetings, but I feel a lot of the concerns fall on deaf ears."

Donna Nicol, who is a three-hour worker at Green Primary School, said she wishes she knew how to get more substitutes, adding that Green is a great school system and the hours are good.

Sandy Wootan, a three-hour worker at Green Primary School who has been with the district for 25 years, said the district needs subs and it becomes too hard when there aren’t any available.

"This is lunch, not brain surgery," Wootan said. "We just want things to run smoothly."

Pam Kozlowski, a six-hour worker at Green Primary School, said not having a sub makes the job difficult.

"It is not fair to Teresa (Case) to do her job and someone else’s," Kozlowski said.

CUSTODIANS

Jackson said when regular employees are off and the district cannot get a substitute, the focus is on making sure safety items are taken care of in the buildings. He said those items include emptying the trash, cleaning the bathrooms and making sure all the surfaces are clean.

Jackson said the district has offered some overtime to employees either in their building or another building when people are off and there isn’t a sub.

The district also added two five-hour positions, which are being used as floating subs. Jackson said the two employees know they are coming in every day, but they don’t know what building they will be at. Also, those are the two employees the district will turn to first if a full-time position opens.

The public records request also sought the attendance of custodians for the same three-month peroid. The records revealed that 69 percent of the time a custodian was off, there was a sub. The attendance sheets show several instances where subs weren't available or there were no takers for certain openings.  

BUS DRIVERS

On average, Green uses between three to five substitutes for bus drivers each day.

Green Local Schools Transportation Supervisor Glenna Romine said the district has 51 buses along with one for special needs which run 45 routes per day.

She said being a bus driver is a very rewarding job, and is a perfect job for parents who have students in the schools.

"You are the first person children see at the start of the day, and you can set the tone for whole day," Romine said.

Romine said the number of drivers calling off varies each day, but added that sometimes several days pass with no one out.

The district, however, has had to use charter buses on several occasions recently and Jackson said that is something officials want to stay away from.

Jackson said on many occasions other districts are having to combine routes when drivers are out, but he recalled Green only having to combine routes once in the last two years. He said everyone does a good job of pulling together, and mechanics and supervisors step in to drive buses.

"There are times people have to pick up and do extra work," Jackson said.

Spring and fall can be the toughest for drivers because of all the athletic and academic events going on, requiring extra bus routes.

"That’s what really puts the pressure on you," Jackson said.

When trips are short and there is a shortage of drivers, sometimes drivers will drop off a sports team and come back and get another team rather than staying with the first team.

Nicol, who also drives a bus, believes it isn’t fair when mechanics have to drive buses and get paid at the mechanic rate rather than a bus driver rate. She said this also pulls them off their work and puts them behind.

PAY RATES

The district pays substitute cafeteria workers $8.10, custodians $8.76 and bus drivers $13.50 per hour.

"We would like them to be paid more," Jackson said.

Miller said Green looks at surrounding districts and he said some of them pay more and some pay less.

Jackson said full-time custodians only make $1 more than subs.

"We want subs, but not to be paid too close to the regular employee wage," Jackson said. "We have been working with the employee unions to solve the issue of the subs being better paid."

Out of eight neighboring districts, Green pays its substitute custodians second to last. The only district paying its custodian subs less is North Canton City Schools at $8.10 per hour. Manchester Local Schools pays its sub custodians the most at $11.39 per hour.

Out of the same eight districts, Green pays its substitute bus drivers about average with most districts, between $13 and $15. The highest paying district for sub bus drivers is Jackson Local Schools at $16.99 per hour. 

When it comes to subs for the cafeteria, Green pays its subs the same amount as Barberton, Coventry, Jackson, Manchester and North Canton. Akron Public Schools pay its cafeteria subs the most at $9.67 per hour.

SUBSTITUTE SEARCH

Jackson and Miller said the district has been running ads in the local papers, along with advertising the need for subs on the district’s website and Facebook page.

The district’s website includes a link asking for substitute bus drivers, but doesn't mention anything about a need for substitute custodians or cafeteria workers.

The district has also taken part in two employment drives to help try and attract workers. Miller said he has also asked building principals to talk with parents to see if any are interested in one of the positions.

Miller said being a substitute is a great opportunity to being one step closer to a full-time employee. He said a lot of the subs in the district have gotten hired on full time.

Jackson said the district contracted with an employment company a while back that dealt with placing subs when employees called off. He said it turned out poorly for the district.

"Even the experts can’t get subs to come in," Jackson said.

District officials say they work with subs when it comes to where and when they can work.

"We have to be flexible, otherwise we lose them," Jackson said. "We have to take what we can get."

Those interested in subbing for any position can do so online, but must be able to pass an F.B.I. and B.C.I. check.

Miller and Jackson said they are both open to ideas to get more subs and welcome any suggestions.