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Many substitutes not getting paid during school closures

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Cindy Sloan Butts would work up to five days a week subbing in Rio Rancho.

She would typically get up at 5 a.m. every day, drive to school and “teach with enthusiasm.”

While the substitute teacher of 18 years admitted it’s hard work, she said she loves it and it was a good way to supplement her retirement from previous jobs in corporate America, which she said covers the basics but not much else.

She would use her subbing income for expenses such as visiting her grandchildren in western New York, or to put money toward full retirement one day.

But since schools closed for the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 crisis, Sloan Butts hasn’t been able to sub, and she hasn’t had an income.

“I only get paid for hours and days I work, so when the schools are closed, I don’t get paid,” she said.

Sloan Butts’ last day teaching was March 13.

Rio Rancho Public Schools is only paying its long-term subs – about 12 – for digital instruction, but there isn’t other work available for the short-term subs such as Sloan Butts, according to spokeswoman Melissa Perez.

State Public Education Department spokeswoman Deborah Martinez told the Journal that in general subs aren’t expected to be paid unless they are performing other duties during the closures or if they are taking on long-term subbing roles.

The PED didn’t have a total count of subs in New Mexico, citing fluidity of the position.

Martinez noted that substitute teachers can file for unemployment with the state, if needed.

As the federal government has expanded unemployment eligibility, subs who are considered contractors will be able to apply for unemployment under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance this week, according to Stacy Johnston of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Sloan Butts said she won’t be applying for unemployment, saying that she gets a pension and doesn’t want to take the money from people who need it more. Instead, she is working on writing a book during this time and exploring other options for work in education.

Mony Gomez, a former teacher in New Mexico for 35 years, has been a substitute teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools for the past 11 years.

Like Sloan Butts, she told the Journal that she subbed regularly, often five days a week, to supplement her educator pension and because she loves the work.

But Gomez said that she hasn’t been getting paid either since schools were shut down. When the order to close schools was announced, Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart said school personnel would be paid as usual, which Gomez hoped would apply to her, but it didn’t.

Gomez said she was taken by surprise, especially after learning that some school districts in the country have vowed to pay subs.

For instance, Los Angeles Unified School District said in March that it would pay subs during school closures based on their work history and previously scheduled assignments.

APS’ subs are managed by staffing agency Kelly Education.

Nicola Soares, senior vice president of Kelly Education, said most of the roughly 1,600 APS subs aren’t being paid.

About 160 of these subs, who were on long-term assignments, will continue to fill in for teachers and get paid as the district shifts to at-home instruction, according to APS spokeswoman Johanna King.

Soares said that Kelly Education is trying to find other work for the rest of the employees, adding that there are now virtual K-12 tutoring assignments that some subs can take advantage of.

Kelly Education officials said the agency won’t know how many Albuquerque subs have worked in virtual tutoring until schools reopen.

Gomez and Sloan Butts said the lack of a paycheck is tough, but what they miss most is the kids.

“What I miss most about being away from the children is their inspiration,” Sloan Butts said.

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