Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Another Sub Service Fails

Professional Education Services Group may be "the leader in Educational Staffing driven by a constant focus on the success of our Educational Partners through innovative, hand-crafted solutions that meet the needs of your local educational community" in almost 5000 schools across the country. But in Michigan, they failed hard.

PESG sent out a letter last night letting about 100 schools know that the company was closing down immediately and would not be getting them subs for today. They are shuttering all Michigan operations.

Is there some sort of explanation? The head of the company had sent out a note to employees, indicating that the company had been seeking capital as well as negotiating with "a competitor" to be bought out. But it was not to be, because reasons:

"The urgency of the shutdown was exacerbated, however, when those negotiations broke down over the weekend due to unforeseen developments outside of our control," he said. "Without operating funds to stay open, therefore, the company is now forced to close immediately. Under the circumstances, we believed our only serious option was to notify you as soon as possible."

Most of the affected districts, including the large Dearborn district, were scrambling to make plans. PESG said 1,500 to 2,000 substitute teachers were affected. Some of these districts still have contracts with PESG, so we may see some court action before the smoke clears.

This, of course, is what you get when you let a business have a piece of the education pie. Does this kind of sudden shut down make sense? Was the company down to its last $150 last week but they figured it would all work out anyway, or is this "immediate" shutdown necessary to protect the business's remaining assets. Who knows. All I know is that a school district would do-- well, exactly what the districts are doing, which is to put their heads together, rig something up, and generally move heaven and earth to make sure the needs of students are met.

Public schools put students first. Businesses put business concerns first. That doesn't make them evil-- just bad partners for schools.

Substitute services have a spotty record. Philadelphia tried privatizing its substitute pool, and the results were ugly. Districts find sub outsourcing attractive, but for substitutes it's a pain-- one more layer of bureaucracy to deal with, and another hand out to cut into your check before it gets to you. Some services can even be insulting-- a local district just handed its sub pool over to a company (rhymes with "smell") and now subs who have already been working for years are told they need to take some special smelly training. I have no figures on how many subs walk out when a new subcontractor walks in, but the number can't be inconsequential. To recruit more people, you need to make the job more attractive-- adding a subcontractor to the sub teacher biz hardly ever makes the job more attractive.

All districts know at least one solution, and some larger districts actually embrace it. You hire full time subs. You put Mrs. McSubteach on full salary, have her report to work every day, and plug her in wherever, and you never have to worry about her being poached for the day by some other district. But that costs money, and districts want a cheap solution.

Privatizing is not that solution. 500 subs cost less than 500 subs plus a corporate payroll for the company that took the work over. You don't make an operation cheaper by adding more mouths to feed.

The substitute recruitment problem cannot be solved by making the job less attractive, and privatizing is not a solution, either, as many schools in Michigan are finding out today.


  1. Good column, sorry for the kids in Michigan...
    For the record, after hiring a firm that failed to deliver. They should have never been given that contract in the first place, there were warning signs. Not to mention they should have been fired soon.
    Kelly Services now provides substitutes for the School District of Philadelphia. Certified teachers are paid more and School District retirees even more.

  2. We switched to Kelly Services years ago. Given the games our district was playing with subs (I'm still owed $300 from 2005 because of shoddy time and bookkeeping practices), our subs found the outsourcing an improvement.

  3. Michigan law stated that after you worked for a district for so many days they had to give you the 1st job you were qualified to teach (e.g. HS chem teacher would not get a 3rd grade classroom). Privatization meant you worked for the subcontractor not the district. So no prospect of a full time job after working for peanuts.

    Also, working as a sub meant that you were paying into the retirement system and would receive time towards years of service for subbing. Again, this feature went away after sub subcontractors came in.

    Districts now wonder why it's tough to get a sub. Policies matter.

  4. Around here, districts’ preferred solution is to use librarians, art/music teachers, instructional technologists etc. Pull them from their work, make them sub instead, repeatedly, then get mad and call them insubordinate when they object because they cannot do their jobs. Send out blanket letters accusing teachers of taking too many sick days, acknowledge a state-wide sub shortage, and lecture and shame them for their illnesses, demand that employees share their diagnoses before admin will stop the shaming. When they object, double down.

    I’d like to think my resignation in the face of such policies would make change but I doubt it.

    Policies do, indeed, matter. Pay subs sufficiently, offer paid technology training, and respect the people you have (for instance, no requiring that all subs do lunch duty for no extra pay) if you want good subs to stick with you. Imagine those full time subs as a tool to make your other employees more efficient rather than as a drain on resources. Even in a small place, not a day goes by without a needed sub.

  5. Yes, same is happening in my NJ urban district usin ESS/Source4Teachers. Vendor cannot supply enough subs so inclusion, ELL push in, specials, and high paid coaches are used to sub, and not by choice. They may or may not get paid for missed preps. So taking away legally mandated services for SPED and ELL students. My district is already being sued for this but never learns.