Pandemic without a paycheck: Some substitute teachers unpaid as schools are closed 

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Bill Underwood, right, with his wife, Jeannette Pomeroy. (Submitted photo)

With schools statewide closed until at least May 1, Hamilton Southeastern Schools teachers are teaching from home and still receiving paychecks. The district announced it also would continue to pay hourly staff, such as instructional assistants, cafeteria workers and permanent substitutes.

But one group, regular substitute teachers, are not getting paid as they work on a contract basis.

Fishers resident Bill Underwood, 62, has been a tutor for 10 years. After moving to the area two years ago, he began substitute teaching at HSE Schools. His wife, Jeannette Pomeroy, 60, also is a substitute teacher. Underwood said the district always praises substitutes for their hard work, so he was surprised when his position wasn’t on the list to continue receiving checks.

“(Substitute teaching) is very enjoyable, but you have to be prepared for just about anything,” he said. “You have to teach any subject on any given day and deal with a variety of students from elementary up to seniors in high school. It’s been enjoyable, but then this little hiccup here happened.”

Underwood said there are two categories of substitute teachers – permanent substitutes and regular substitutes. According to the HSE website, permanent substitutes are considered full-time district employees who are assigned to a home school but can be asked to sub at different schools within the district if necessary. Permanent substitutes work each day school is in session and are paid $90 a day. Regular substitutes are part-time employees who sub on an as-needed basis for $80 a day.

Underwood and Pomeroy share a car, so they can’t be permanent substitutes. Therefore, they are classified as regular substitutes. Regular subs also can’t work more than 129.5 hours per 30-day period.

“My wife told me one of the instructional assistants told her they weren’t going to get paid or the cafeteria workers or other hourly staff,” Underwood said. “I guess they raised hell to some extent because the school district decided the hourly people would get paid after all, and the permanent subs would get paid, but the existing subs would not get paid.”

Underwood reached out to district officials to ask them to reconsider.

“Money is in the budget. They’ve already budgeted for us, and they said no,” he said. “So, I had another idea and asked, ‘What if you classify all of us as permanent subs for the short term and that way we fit in?’ And the email back from the sub coordinator said no. Permanent subs are paid different and qualify for benefits.

“I asked, ‘Can you at least lay us off so we qualify for unemployment?’ And they won’t lay us off, either,” he said. “We are in limbo. We are employed but can’t go to work because our work is shut down by order of the governor.”

The HSE School Board passed a resolution March 11 enabling the superintendent to pay staff members during the pandemic while school is taking place online. The resolution includes teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, instructional assistants, permanent substitute teachers and administrative assistants.

“All of our certified positions (teachers) and non-certified (hourly and salaried staff) are getting paid. That includes, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, IAs, permanent substitute teachers, administrative assistants, etc.,” a statement from the district read. “We made this decision because we felt it was important to help our staff maintain their livelihoods since COVID-19 and the building closure was no fault of their own. Staff are being paid their normal daily rate for their position. With that being said, many are still conducting school business from home. This is an unprecedented event and while we don’t know what exactly the future holds, we are trying to maintain some kind of normalcy for our hard-working and dedicated staff members.”

Underwood said he knew what the job was all about when he accepted it, but nobody expected a pandemic and no pay.

“It’s rewarding to help a kid and see that light come on. That’s what we all really live for,” he said. “I took the job knowing what it was about and we are expected to do exactly what regular teachers do, and that includes fire drills, tornado drills and active shooter drills. When we are in a classroom full of 25 to 30 kids, we are responsible for their lives and we get all that for a whopping 10 dollars an hour, which is kind of low.”

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Jeannette Pomeroy sews masks for hospitals. (Submitted photo)

In the meantime, Underwood and Pomeroy are filling their free time in a variety of ways.

“The floor is cleaner than it’s ever been,” he said, laughing.

Pomeroy is sewing masks to send to hospitals after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced homemade masks would be acceptable as a last resort. She planst to sew a few hundred of them. Underwood finished writing a short story and is starting another. He also is offering free tutoring services to any student who needs extra instruction during the pandemic. English and math are his specialties. To contact him, email [email protected].

A need for substitute teachers

Bill Underwood said in his experience, Hamilton Southeastern Schools always has need for substitute teachers.

“One day online, there were 37 open positions for subs that day that hadn’t been filled,” he said. “If you have such a shortage of people, common sense dictates you probably aren’t paying enough. If you have a demand like this and you’re not filling it with people, chances are you’re not paying enough to attract more people.”