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    K-12 Education

    Long-term partnership and wage strategy helps Charleston County Schools navigate teacher shortage.


    Kelly® Education provides insights about competitive wages that improve consistency in staffing.

    In 2013, the Charleston County School District in South Carolina first partnered with Kelly Education to cover teacher substitution assignments in its 78 schools. As the nation’s 100th largest school district, it serves 49,000 students.

    That successful partnership was blossoming with fill rates in the 90th percentile. Then, COVID-19 hit and like many school districts across the United States, they experienced a sharp decline in their ability to maintain a workforce.

    “By the fall of 2019, our substitute program was a well-oiled machine,” says Susan Watson-Bell, director of certified recruiting and staffing at the Charleston County School District (CCSD). “After COVID-19 hit, we had weekly calls throughout the summer with Kelly Education to help us think outside of the box about what we could do to increase our number of substitute educators.”

    Not only did Kelly Education alleviate the additional pressure, but their support allowed the school system to generate competitive wage increases and to create a program where substitute teachers remain in the same buildings.

    Raising wages to compete for jobs.

    Together, Kelly Education and CCSD completed a market analysis to address the reduction in the number of substitute teachers during the pandemic. It was clear that pay rates and inflation were taking a toll. The district utilized ESSER funds to put temporary pay raises into effect. Daily pay for substitutes with high school diplomas rose from $80 to $130, and for those with bachelor’s degrees from $112 to $150. Certified substitute teachers were able to accept assignments of 10 days or more. It worked. Within 30 days, fill rates were above 90 percent and recruiting qualified talent was attainable.

    “Being able to compete with retail jobs that offer $19 per hour was a huge game changer for us,” says Watson-Bell. “We saw a dramatic increase in interest and onboarding, and we are now aligned with pre- pandemic fill rates.” Currently, the district can call on a list of more than 1,000 active substitute teachers to cover 400 absences per day.

    To address the most difficult days to fill, CCSD now provides an additional $25 for substitute teachers who work on a Monday or Friday. Approximately 350 substitute teachers have benefited from this program, which required some additional heavy lifting from Kelly Education. “It was a little tricky for the payroll team, but they worked internally to make it a smooth process for us,” says Watson-Bell.

    “Kelly Education has been a true partner over the last couple of years. Their team has gone above and beyond for us.”

    - Susan Watson-Bell, Director of Certified Recruiting and Staffing

    Creating consistency in school buildings.

    Before the pandemic, only a handful of the district’s 78 schools assigned the same substitute teacher to specific buildings. The experience during COVID-19 drove the school system to standardize the process districtwide to create consistency. “Kelly Education is now placing a fair number of substitute educators in the same buildings because we wanted them to be moving around as little as possible, and it’s incredibly helpful,” Watson-Bell says. “Every building has its own personality—and by having employees in the same building every day, they learn our policies, operating procedures, and expectations,” she adds. “That cuts down on issues long- term, and we see more employee retention as a result."

    A trusting partnership.

    During the pandemic, Kelly Education not only helped maintain fill rates, but saved Watson-Bell a great deal of time. “I had the job of assigning district staff to cover classrooms in addition to their normal work schedules. You can imagine how that can wear on people over time,” she remembers. “I appreciated that they were sympathetic to our situation and helped us reach a solution.”

    Article commissioned by Kelly Education and written by District Administration.

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