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School board adopts new program to streamline hiring substitutes

To increase efficiency and accountability among staff requesting substitutes to fill their place during sick days, the Pine River-Backus School Board on Monday, May 20, agreed to begin using Aesop, an electronic system for managing placement of substitute teachers.

Elementary Principal Jackie Bruns said clerical staff in the elementary school sometimes face high stress and extremely late or early hours to find substitutes to fill in for absent teachers. Staff managing substitute placement have reported they can spend up to 14 hours in three days seeking substitutes to fill vacancies.

If those hours occur outside of a normal work schedule, those staff members sometimes comp their time to make up for those hours. That means they are sometimes missing during normal work hours while they are needed for other work.

Aesop is a networking program that posts substitute openings and tracks availability of substitute teachers to automate the system that once required clerical workers to fill out forms, turn them in for authorization and call sometimes dozens of substitute teachers. Cindy Felthous, human resource director, said substitutes have recently been asking why the school does not already use the system that is active in other schools, such as Crosby-Ironton and Hill City.

Because there was some question of annual cost, board members inquired whether the program would actually be worth purchasing. Felthous suggested that the automated system would increase the amount of time clerical workers could spend on other important work, and even increase productivity and efficiency.

The board rehired Julie Oakland-Soukup as an elementary teacher for the 2013-14 school year with board members Leslie Bouchonville, Garney Gaffey, Jason Marcum and Jim Coffland voting in favor, and Chris Cunningham and Katy Botz voting against.

Botz and Cunningham specified that they were not opposed to hiring Oakland-Soukup, but instead questioned hiring her on the BS+15 step nine salary schedule when most teachers are hired at step five or six at the highest. This concern was raised in light of community concerns over the budgetary decision to have only two fourth-grade classes, which could increase classroom sizes.

Superintendent Cathy Bettino explained that Oakland-Soukup was an elementary teacher with PR-B previously, and was being paid at the step nine salary schedule. Bettino said that, during her former time with the school, Oakland-Soukup was a valuable asset and helped to greatly improve her students’ reading comprehension, a skill they were specifically seeking.

In other business, the board:

• Authorized posting for milk bids, bread quotes and diesel quotes for the 2013-14 school year.

• Hired Randy Schwegel as part-time non-certified activities director effective July 1.

• Hired Kipp Yackley as route bus driver effective in the 2013-14 school year.

• Announced this year’s “Sticker Shock” where the Working Together Coalition goes to local liquor stores and puts stickers on alcohol containers warning adults against purchasing alcohol for minors.

• Announced Loretta Steffen as the 2013-14 Minnesota Reading Corps Volunteer to work at Pine River-Backus School.