The Park Rapids Area School Board voted Monday to hire Teachers On Call to provide substitute teachers.

“It’s no secret that we have, among many districts in the nation, difficulty finding subs and recruiting subs,” said Superintendent Lance Bagstad, describing a frequent early-morning process involving school secretaries scrambling to fill openings.

“Teachers On Call is probably the leading company that helps school districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin in helping fill their sub (needs) in both the certified and non-certified staff areas,” he said.

According to a fact sheet about the firm, Teachers On Call is a subsidiary of Kelly Services that provides substitute teachers to more than 150 school districts and 450 early childhood, charter and private schools in the two states.

Bagstad spoke with administrators at other school districts in the area that have been using Teachers On Call and they “haven’t had one bad thing to say about working with them," he said.

"On staff, they have 400 people working to get subs on a daily basis," said Bagstad. "They have people working all day, through like 10 p.m. They take Saturday off, but they start again on Sunday to make sure that all the positions are filled on Monday."

He said there will be a 30- to 60-day transition while the district’s 86 current subs are brought on board as TOC employees, a process that includes training. Responding to a concern that some subs may find the process difficult, Bagstad said Mary Evink in human resources has a plan to work with them.

Business Manager Kent Fritze said the move will be approximately cost neutral, but it will save in “soft costs” such as time spent by staff searching for subs and end-of-year payroll processing.

Bagstad added that no longer having subs as employees of the school district will relieve the district of such human resources responsibilities as providing them with online training and fair wage reports.

He stressed that the district doesn't want to lose any subs and wants to make sure they are well taken care of. "Our teachers will still work through our same Aesop (absence management) system and time clock," he said. "They can still request specific teachers if they're going to be out for a period of time, three days or so. It still works that same way. There isn't a whole lot of change for them; it's just that our current subs would be employees of another company.

"Hopefully, this will allow us to expand our pool," Bagstad added, noting that TOC has a process of recruiting school substitutes. He confirmed that subs will continue to be paid at the current rate.

Board member Stephanie Carlson moved to go forward with Teachers On Call. During discussion of the motion, board member Dennis Dodge said the North Country Vocational Co-op Center has been happy with TOC.

"I'm against it, but I know it's the way to go," said board member Gary Gauldin. "I thought that was part of my job when I was the principal. It was very personal. I knew everybody who was in the building and who was out. But I know that things have changed."

In contrast, Gauldin said, when responsibility to line up subs was passed down to office staff, "it became a miserable job. They almost had to bribe people to come in."

Carlson's motion passed without dissent.