‘Slap in the face’ — DC substitute teachers seek benefits, pay increase

Several D.C. educators rallied outside of the John A. Wilson building Monday morning, seeking higher pay and benefits for the city’s substitute teachers. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

Several D.C. educators rallied outside of the John A. Wilson Building on Monday morning, seeking higher pay and benefits for the city’s substitute teachers.

Holding signs that read “teachers stand with substitutes” and “DCPS subs are underpaid,” the group caught the attention of commuters as it walked up and down the corner of 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Monday’s demonstration was the latest “day of absence” in a series organized by the group Washington Substitute Teachers United. It featured retired city teachers and members of the D.C. Caucus of Rank & File Educators, a subsection of Washington Teachers’ Union members.

The gathering came about a week after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a bump in pay for substitute teachers. Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said last week that daily substitute teachers who work fewer than 30 days per school year will see daily pay increased from $121.50 to $136.

The increased wage, Bowser said in a news release last week, demonstrates the city’s focus on “bolstering supports for schools and creating pathways for educators to become long-term substitutes.” But the nominal increase offended the group.

Myrtle Washington, president of Washington Substitute Teachers United, said she sent a letter to Ferebee and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn expressing the group’s frustrations.

“We’re willing to come into school, regardless of this epidemic,” Washington said. “We’re coming to teach your children, because we think that they should come first. I think that a $2 [hourly] increase is a slap in the face.”

The planned absences also come in the midst of a nationwide substitute teacher shortage, worsened by the pandemic. In an email, a school system spokesman said the city doesn’t have an updated comment on the group’s requests.

In an email, a source close to the Bowser administration said the mayor wanted to give substitute teachers a raise immediately while the city examines other ways to increase pay.

The city’s current substitute teacher pool sits at 521, compared to 853 substitute teachers in school year 2019-20, the spokesman said.

Lisa Christopher, a retired D.C. teacher who opted to return as a substitute teacher to continue working with students for the last year and a half, said in addition to higher pay, substitute teachers should also receive benefits. Substitute teachers who are in classrooms every day, she said, should be considered for a leave bank that would enable them to take paid time off.

Last year, the city announced that former DCPS teachers were eligible to make $300 each day if they serve as long-term substitutes.

“They go in and they teach every day, just like the teachers,” Christopher said. “I am not currently subbing. … I stand in solidarity with the efforts that are going on right now for higher pay.”

Rev. William H. Lamar IV, of the city’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, praised the group’s efforts.

“For substitute teachers, who we trust to care for our children, to make the same wage for 14 years is reprehensible,” he said. “It is unjust. It is ungodly. And we know that there are enough resources for this not to be the case.”

Washington Substitute Teachers United is planning another demonstration in collaboration with the Washington Teachers’ Union outside the Wilson Building on Feb. 7.

WTOP’s Shayna Estulin contributed to this report.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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