Wisconsin’s ongoing teacher shortage hasn’t just made it harder to find educators, it’s made finding substitutes harder too, according to Bangor School District Superintendent Dave Laehn.

Bangor isn’t the only school district that’s having a hard time finding subs. Onalaska and Holmen are all struggling to with the same issue.

“We see a shortage in all of those areas,” Laehn said.

West Salem School District Human Resources Director Barb Buswell said her district also is experience a shortage of subs.

On any given day, a school in the region may need between two and 30 substitute teachers to fill in for missing faculty and staff, according to local school officials. Districts also often need substitutes nurses, cooks, custodians and paraprofessionals.

Onalaska School District Human Resource Director Sonya Ganther said the hardest days of the week to find subs are Fridays and Mondays when many educators are attending conferences or conventions or taking a personal day to spend with family.

Laehn said it’s when a staff member or their family become ill the night before or the morning of that the district has the hardest time finding subs. He said by this time most of the available subs have already signed up to fill positions in other schools.

“I remember 10 years ago you’d have 75 to 100 applicants to fill a substitute position,” he said. “Now we’re lucky to have three to five applicants.”

If a school can’t find a sub, other teachers may be asked to spend their prep periods filling in for the missing faculty member. Buswell said this, however, is never ideal. Not only does it take away from other educators time, a class will often be taught by multiple teachers throughout the day.

Ganther said subs aren’t always required because a teacher gets sick.

“Sometimes it’s illness, or family or a professional development opportunity,” she said.

Ganther said if a teacher knows they are going to be gone for a conference they’re encouraged to request a substitute as early as possible. This gives them the opportunity to find a sub with experience teaching their subject. That way, students don’t miss out on a day of instruction because their teacher was out of school.

While Bangor has consistently struggled to find substitute teachers and paraprofessionals, Laehn said the district’s most dire need is for bus drivers.

“It’s a widespread issue,” he said.

Ganther said in Onalaska, they’ve struggled to find paraprofessionals and long-term substitutes to fill in for faculty members on maternity or long-term leave.

West Salem has started advertising for subs in newspapers and through social media posts.

“People used to come to us,” she said. “Now we’re actively marketing, we’re putting out on social media and advertising in the theaters.”

The shortage has forced Laehn to consider increasing substitute pay to make the district more competitive.

“We’ll probably have to look at paying more,” he said.

Substitute teachers in the Coulee Region can make between $95 and $120 for a full day of work.

Buswell said they’re looking for retired teachers who are looking for occasional work or stay at home parents willing to get involved in the school district. She said anyone with a bachelor’s degree and a substitute teaching license can become a substitute teacher.

The Cooperative Education Service Agency in West Salem, offers substitute training for members of the public who want to get involved.

“I think the great thing about subbing is they can pick a day they want to work,” Ganther said.

Applicants can pick up applications at any of the area schools or apply through the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network at wecan.education.wisc.edu.


Coulee Courier reporter

Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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