The Providence Substitute Situation and Demanding Negotiations to Correct a Mistake

Justin’s post from yesterday mentioned that Providence Mayor Angel Tavares’ decision to send dismissal notices to all current Providence teachers relates directly to the cost of substitutes. According to data available from the Rhode Island Department of Education website, Mayor Tavares has picked a reasonable area for reform, as the per-pupil costs of substitute teachers in Providence have for the past decade been significantly above the state average…

YearProv. Per-Pupil
Substitute Teacher Costs
Rest-of-RI Per-Pupil
Substitute Teacher Costs

In terms of total dollars, this amounts to between about $6 million and $9 million more being spent by Providence per-year than would be, if substitute costs were at state average…

Year Prov/RI Difference in
Substitute Teacher Costs
Number of
Providence Students
Annual Prov. Cost
Above State Average

Putting things into a budgetary perspective, if Providence’s substitute costs had been reformed in the first year of the Cicilline administration (humor me here) and brought into line with the state average, and all other school costs were held equal, the Providence education budget could have been expanded from its FY2003 level to its FY2009 level (the last year for which data is available) with less-than-1% annual increases.

This problem is more than just fiscal. Paying two to three times the state average for substitute teachers is not an “inefficiency”; it is a mistake. It makes public services more costly without doing anything to improve their quality. A school administration shouldn’t have to “give something back” in order to correct an outright error that provides no value and only costs to the public.

There can be little doubt that the repeated drawing of lines in the sand by union leaders, behind which everything about a job intransigently is placed — including practices that in no way serve the public interest — has contributed greatly to Mayor Tavares’ decision to send dismissal notices to the entire Providence faculty. His drastic, across-the-board action is no less likely to bring about change than would an effort to get union cooperation on an isolated issue, where a union is inclined to protect its economic benefits, despite no one else benefitting in any way from the current situation.

In theory, it doesn’t have to be this way. Public-sector unions could realize that their special position within government monopoly systems for delivering public services entails some responsibility for considering the public interest when determining acceptable “negotiating” goals, and that certain options that lack discernable public value need to be closed off. But I don’t know that this theory will ever match up to reality.

Stephen Beale has more information on substitute teaching policies in Providence, at GoLocalProv.

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Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

I have a simple question for all the data I see from government sources – why is the data always so old??? In the days of computers this data should be almost instantaneous. At least give me the last year.
I want to see the data from 2009-2010. Why do we put up with such gross incompetence?

13 years ago

Read Beale’s article.
Question – what type of substitute teacher will you get for $125 per day? If such a person substituted all 180 days they would make just $22500 per year.
Back when there were only three acceptable careers for women – nurse, secretary, teacher – and those women were birthing the baby boomers, maybe you could pay a low per diem for occasional basis substitutes. Dad brought home the bacon. Mom, retired from teaching and full time as a stay at home parent, got out of the house, once her kids were in school, and picked up some money for the cookie jar. And that Mom was on average a helluva lot smarter and more dedicated – today she’s a lawyer or doctor or…
Substitute pay isn’t the problem. I could even go along with a per diem contribution towards health care. The problem is full-time teacher salaries and benefits. The problem is too many administrators, aides, overhead requirements for reporting, etc, etc.

Shawna Amitrano
Shawna Amitrano
13 years ago

I am a substitute teacher trying to get my foot in the door for a full time job. I work in several districts. One of the major issues I see is retired teachers get paid step (approx 100.00 a day more than other subs). they have the connections with admin and teachers. This is costing cities and towns a huge amount. Their are plenty of qualified subs who are not retired who will take the work.

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