Maryville City Schools hopes raising some substitute teacher pay by $10 a day will give it enough adults in classrooms to keep schools from going fully virtual as COVID-19 cases rise in the community.

The Maryville Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 9, approved boosting the daily rate by $10 for substitutes in grades 8-12.

The school board also raised the rate for special education substitutes in any school by $10 a day, meaning a special education substitute at the junior high or high school could receive a total of $20 a day more than previous rates.

Fewer subs, harder to fill

Director Mike Winstead told the board while the district has needed fewer substitutes this school year, its ability to fill those spots is down.

Last year between Oct. 1 and Nov. 6 the district had 371 requests for substitutes and a 93% fill rate. For the same period with the same number of instructional days, MCS had 338 spots for substitutes and a 67% fill rate.

In elementary schools teaching assistants are monitoring classes while teachers are remote, but at the high school and middle school teachers have been filling in during what are supposed to be planning periods.

Winstead told the board on that Monday, Nov. 9, Maryville had five vacancies at the junior high and two at the high school.

While some substitutes may hesitate to teach in the higher grades, he explained after the meeting, it’s different when the teacher is actually delivering the lesson content online. “We just need an adult there to watch the kids,” he said.

On Monday, Nov. 9, Winstead told the board the district had 24 active student cases of COVID-19 and 10 active staff cases, the highest in the school year so far. Each case can lead to dozens of quarantine requirements.

“This is a very clear reminder that we can’t drop our guard,” Winstead said.

Maryvillle reported a total of 16 new cases on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 9-10. Among adults MCS had two district employees and one Maryville High School staff member positive. The other positive cases were five student cases at the junior high, four at Coulter Grove Intermediate, and two each at the high school and Montgomery Ridge Intermediate.

Maryville isn’t the only district figuring out how to cover classrooms. Alcoa City Schools previously moved its high school to virtual instruction for a week, and Blount County Schools is considering a number of options to fill substitute spots.

Today, Nov. 11, BCS has planned for all students to learn virtually, a practice for the future in case that becomes necessary.

Maryville City Schools has 12 instructional days between Thanksgiving and the winter break, while the other districts have 15.

When asked if Maryville was considering virtual learning those days, Winstead said, “We’re looking at a lot of things.”

Winstead said when he meets with principals next week they will discuss case numbers and how to close the fall semester and open the spring semester. With a spike in cases after fall break Winstead already had raised the possibility of a phased return after spring break.

Winstead also said during the interview after the meeting that Alcoa’s model of taking the high school virtual while keeping the lower grades in person could be an option in Maryville as well. However, the period between Thanksgiving and winter break is a time for end-of-course testing at the high school, and he said that’s a strong consideration.

Budget hit

The cost of substitutes so far in Maryville is up 10%, and if that continues through the school year will equal $40,000 in additional costs, Winstead told the board. However COVID-19 has cut travel for conferences and professional development, so spending in that $150,000 budget line is down 75%.

Because employees delayed elective medical procedures in the spring those costs were down, but for the first quarter of this fiscal year, Winstead said, medical insurance costs are up 3% from the same time last year, about $100,000.

During the meeting Monday, Nov 9, at MHS the school board also passed a policy revisions to comply with new state law on child abuse reporting, including annual training for all staff and assigning a coordinator and alternate coordinator for every school.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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