- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - An Omaha school district is considering cutting down on use of substitute teachers for high school juniors and seniors as it struggles to close a $5.4 million budget gap.

The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1WvCqH0 ) reports that Westside High School estimates that it could save $75,000 next year if fewer substitute teachers were hired.

The plan would give teachers discretion to decide if their students need a substitute teacher of can work independently. Officials say the high school already encourages such student responsibility and time management through its schedule that’s similar to college.

“This is a way of looking outside the box,” said Jim Sides, director of secondary teaching and learning at the high school.

Westside borrowed the idea from Minnesota high schools, but it hasn’t been tested in the metro area. Some local officials express skepticism that it’ll catch on.

Sides said that reducing the number of fill-ins wouldn’t be a statement about the quality of the high school’s substitute teachers.

But one Westside substitute teacher, Gina St. Cyr, said it’s hard not to perceive the proposal as a swipe.

“There needs to be a presence in the classroom,” she said. “There can’t be a class without a teacher. How can we be sure they’re going to be doing the work they need to be doing?”

But Sides said teachers could post instructions for students to continue their work with the district’s online classroom forum.

“It’s not a quantum leap for our district if we pilot this with specific staff and students,” he said. “But once again, it’s that teacher’s decision.”

Westside officials say reducing substitutes would allow the school to make greater use of its technology initiative, which provides a laptop for each student. Superintendent Blane McCann says the district spends about $250,000 a year on substitutes.

“Many teachers told me, ‘I’m not sure why I have a sub,’ or they have to do sub plans that aren’t always the most productive,” McCann said at a budget forum Wednesday.

A list of 30 other potential cuts could affect bus routes, summer camps and teaching staff.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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