Karl Douglass: Career limbo

November 16, 2013 

I wasn't able to walk right into a job when I got out of college. Neither were several of my friends. We all found ways to make ends meet in the meantime. I did freelance production. One of my friends got a paper route. But by far, the most popular "in the meantime" job was substitute teaching.

Substitute teaching was perfect for a recent college graduate. Getting on the substitute list was easy and you received a flat day rate for the work. If you had an interview for your dream job scheduled, you just refused to accept substitute assignment that day. And, back then, you got paid at the end of the week, just in time to have some money in your pocket for the weekend.

I hadn't thought much about all the college grads turned substitute teachers I knew until hearing about a new challenge facing our school district. The district may have to start offering healthcare benefits to substitute teachers in 2015 as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

I believe that basic healthcare is a right, not a privilege, so I am not put off by the idea of offering healthcare benefits to substitute teachers. I am, however, puzzled when I think about how the district will manage the costs. It's a pretty straightforward deal to limit bus drivers and other part-time employees of the district to less than 30 hours a week because they are performing the same tasks in the same way in the same place every day.

Substitute teachers are different. If a substitute works at Columbus High on Monday and Tuesday then gets a call to work at Spencer High on Wednesday and Thursday, the principal at Spencer has no idea the substitute he just assigned 16 hours already earned 16 hours working at Columbus earlier in the week. Unless the district's SubFinder technology can track all these hours in real time, substitute teachers throughout the district will surpass 30 hours often and trigger the healthcare benefit provisions of the ACA, resulting in significant costs to an already cash-strapped school district.

No school system has a set of best practices on this issue, yet. However, what seems to be emerging as the conventional wisdom is that substitute teachers will become contract workers; something akin to the free agent NBA player who gets a 10-day contract with a team to fill in while the star forward is on injured reserve. This new paradigm will not only make it much more difficult for people to get on the substitute teaching list, but it will also reduce the number of substitute teachers overall.

So to all the soon-to-be college grads who thought they could work as substitute teachers until that great corporate job comes along, it may be time to come up with a new plan. Perhaps a paper route or grad school. The good news: At least you can stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you are 26.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service