Leslie Stephens, AISD’s head of human capital, provided replacement data at the Jan. 27 school board meeting. (Screenshot courtesy of AISD)

Austin ISD has made several changes to its substitute teacher policies to attract new applicants amid the COVID-19-induced shortage. According to district officials at a Jan. 27 school board meeting, higher salaries and lower college credit requirements have triggered an increase in replacement requests.

Leslie Stephens, AISD’s chief human capital officer, said the district has received 597 new replacement applications since the salary increase was announced Jan. 15. Before the announcement, they received an average of 10 applications per day.

Low school attendance means AISD has been able to combine classes to manage the shortage of teachers. Central office staff also served as on-call support for essential absences to address the shortage of replacements, a policy that will continue in limited capacity. The superintendent will expect office staff to fill in once a month to maintain contact with classrooms in the district.

Surrounding districts have closed schools due to staff shortages.

“We didn’t come close to that. It wasn’t a thought,” Stephens said. “But there were a few days where we were getting a little nervous.”

Stephens acknowledged that the pandemic exacerbated the surrogate shortage but did not create it. She said the district plans to continue to grow its supply of substitute teachers by ensuring salaries are competitive, opening substitute positions in elementary and middle schools to applicants with less than 60 college hours, and using the central office staff if necessary.