'A desperate need for subs': Okaloosa, Walton substitute teachers can now make up to $20 an hour

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

Substitute teachers are worth a little more in the Okaloosa and Walton County school districts this school year.

Both districts recently decided to increase the pay for subs.

Olivia Giannetti is a substitute teacher at Van R. Butler Elementary School in Santa Rosa Beach. She is among the substitute teachers in Walton and Okaloosa counties will get a pay raise this year.

Okaloosa County announced that through the end of October, substitute teachers will earn $20 per hour, adding up to $150 per day — as opposed to the $90 to $115 range per day previously. Walton County increased the pay for substitute teachers with a teaching certificate by $3 an hour.

“We know the value they bring,” Walton Superintendent Russell Hughes said. “You can never replace a teacher who’s certified in a classroom, but to have good substitutes to be able to step in and carry on, we certainly want to support them financially.”

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Walton substitutes of all hire-able backgrounds have received a substantial increase in pay, Hughes said. Those who hold a teaching certificate will earn $3 more an hour, going from $13 an hour and $97 a day to $16 an hour and $120 a day.

The district also increased the pay for substitute teachers with a bachelor’s degree or an associate of arts degree. Those with a bachelor’s degree previously made $12.20 per hour and will now make $15. Those with an associate in arts degree will make $13.50.

Substitute teachers with a high school diploma had the biggest increase of $3.50 an hour, previously making $9 an hour and now $12.50.

Kim St. Pierre is a substitute teacher at South Walton High School willing to cover any class. She is among the substitute teachers in Walton and Okaloosa counties who will get a pay raise this year.

“We realize that they do a lot of work in these professions,” Hughes said. “When the professionals, the experts, the teachers are out, then we rely on these substitutes to continue educational practices, strategies and to make sure students don’t get off course or behind when a teacher has to be out. Of course, knowing that importance, we always need good, effective substitutes. We’ve done a significant increase.”

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Hughes doesn’t credit the pandemic with the recent pay raise, although he did say that in 2020 some substitute teachers in the high-risk age group opted not to work.

“We’ve always needed substitutes,” he said. “And really it’s just, we haven’t looked at it in a while — that’s one. The other reason, of course, is there’s a requirement change in minimum wage that we’re working toward.”

Amy Kindig, a registered nurse, is a substitute nurse at Emerald Coast Technical College.

The pay increase isn’t limited to instructional substitutes. Walton County also needs substitute bus drivers, food service staff, custodians, bus aides, and nurses. The district currently needs about eight bus drivers, Hughes said.

“We increased (pay for) all of those areas, because when the expert or professional is out, we need quality people to step in and keep things moving,” he said.

Patty Hudson, a substitute teacher, watches over a classroom at Edge Elementary School in Niceville. She is among the substitute teachers in Okaloosa and Walton counties who will get a pay raise this year.

Steve Horton, deputy superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District, said the increase in pay for substitute teachers isn’t a direct result of a teacher shortage. The district currently has 23 open school-based teaching positions in its human resources database.

“That may be a little higher than a typical year, but with over 1,800 classroom teachers, it’s not bad,” Horton said. “We certainly want to fill 100% of our vacant positions, but, like many organizations and businesses in our community, it is difficult. In situations where we can’t fill a position, we begin the year with the best substitute teachers we can find. Many of them have college degrees but lack a specific certification needed to be accredited by the state.”

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Deborah Carr is a substitute teacher at Walton High School. She is among the substitute teachers in Walton and Okaloosa counties who will get a pay raise this year.

In comparison to substitute teachers, beginning teachers with no experience earn a salary of $45,797 per year, Horton said, which is the rough equivalent of about $22 an hour. They also receive health insurance at no cost, he added.

Jonathan Sansom, a full-time substitute teacher at Bruner Middle School, said he took on two classes because of vacant teachers. The principals are doing a “phenomenal job” at adapting to open teacher slots, he added.

“It’s great because I love the kids, but there is a desperate need for subs in Okaloosa County,” Sansom said. “It’s to be expected. We have COVID happening. Not to mention that every profession, workplace in the nation right now is desperate for employees. The workforce is in dire need of people who will work in everything. School systems are no exception.”