LAUSD Will Pay Its Substitute Teachers During Shutdown

Nearly 3,800 substitute teachers in LAUSD will continue to get a daily wage while schools are closed.

The Los Angeles Unified School District committed to continue paying its 70,000 employees during the shutdown — including teachers who are now expected to teach remotely — but until Wednesday, it wasn't clear that substitute teachers would be paid, too.

So when LAUSD first announced its shutdown to combat the coronavirus outbreak, Adam Johnson thought his primary source of income had gone dry.

Johnson is one of the 3,790 substitute teachers in LAUSD. Since subs are normally paid only for days they work, school closures might have cost him thousands, particularly if the shutdown lasts for months.

But on Wednesday afternoon, LAUSD agreed to pay substitutes a daily wage for as long as the shutdown lasts. They'll be paid on a sliding scale based on how many days they've worked since August.

"It's certainly not the dream situation, but I will not be complaining," said Johnson, who has been unable to work as much this year, so he estimates he'll make the minimum: a little more than $100, the equivalent of a half-day's work.

"Even coming in at the minimum," he added, "I would still feel like it seems like someone's trying to be helpful."

BUT WHAT ABOUT HEALTH BENEFITS?

However, wages aren't the only compensation substitutes are at risk of losing during the district's shutdown.

Like gig workers in other industries, many LAUSD substitutes treat substituting as a full- or nearly full-time job. Their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, estimates that half of LAUSD's substitute pool works more than half of the school year — enough to qualify for the district's health care coverage.

But it's not clear whether substitutes will be able to keep that coverage. Once subs become eligible — by working enough hours in a previous school year — they must work at least once a month to maintain their health benefits.

On Friday morning, UTLA leaders said they were still urging LAUSD to take action to ensure subs' health coverage doesn't lapse.

'A MODEL FOR OTHER EMPLOYERS'

On a typical day, LAUSD schools will request some 2,200 substitute teachers to fill in — a figure that's equivalent to 8% of the district's full-time teaching force.

UTLA leaders also say many of the substitutes use teaching as supplemental income for other gig work — particularly in the arts or the entertainment industry. (Johnson got into substitute teaching two decades ago after tiring of waiting tables between acting auditions.)

But the coronavirus outbreak probably means those income sources have also dried up — meaning LAUSD's guaranteed wage could be an economic lifeline for these substitutes.

"This is good work by the district," UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a video message, "and this is a model that other employers should follow."

OTHER SUBSTITUTES STILL IN LIMBO

LAUSD has committed to continue to pay its 70,000 employees during the shutdown — but until Wednesday, it wasn't clear that substitute teachers would be paid, too.

Caputo-Pearl said it was also a signal that other LAUSD substitutes in a similar lurch might be able to negotiate for the same shutdown wages.

For example: the special education aides who work with students with disabilities.

Austin Jackson typically works four or five days each week as a substitute aide. But when the district shut down, he remembered thinking: "Now you're saying I can't work these hours? What's going on here?"

SEIU Local 99 — the union representing classified employees like Jackson — is still negotiating with district officials about their substitutes' needs during the shutdown, according to union spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos. She said the union represents 100 substitute workers.

'YOU DON'T WANT TO BE A SUB FOREVER'

Even if these employees end up receiving pay, many are still caught in limbo by the shutdown.

Mariah Younger is in the midst of a long-term assignment as a substitute special education aide — and her principal insisted that Younger would be paid during the shutdown because she was already scheduled to work. (She's so far ignoring advice from others to file for unemployment.)

But the shutdown has also prevented Younger from completing the final step to becoming a permanent employee.

Anyone who wants to become a special education aide must work 600 hours as a substitute before passing a final test. Younger's already completed her 600 hours — but her test, initially scheduled for next week, was cancelled by LAUSD's shutdown.

"The whole point is," Younger said, "you don't want to be a sub forever."


UPDATES:

Friday, March 20, 11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information about substitute teachers' eligibility for health benefits.

Sunday, March 22, 11:02am: This article was updated to clarify that LAUSD teachers are expected to teach remotely during the shutdown.

This article was originally published at 4:50 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.