LEWISTON — Because it has been unable to find enough substitute teachers, the School Department will contract an employment agency to provide subs.

In a 5-1 vote, the School Committee on Monday night approved a one-year contract with Kelly Educational Staffing, a branch of Kelly Services, to provide substitute teachers.

For the past several years, Lewiston schools have only been able to cover 75 percent of absent teachers. Kelly Educational Staffing said it will use its resources to fill 95 percent of needed subs.

Montello Elementary School Principal Jim Cliffe said not having enough subs means taking 45 minutes at the beginning of every school day to shuffle educational technicians from their normal duties to cover classes.

“We have X number of people out, here’s the number of subs we’ve got, and it’s never the same,” Cliffe said. “We’ve got a shuffle going on.”

When ed techs are moved from their regular duties to classrooms, “something gets impacted. It disrupts programming,” Cliffe said. “It’s not good.”

A lack of substitutes is a real problem, David Martel, co-president of the Lewiston Teachers Association, said.

Martel said he doesn’t know anything about Kelly Educational Staffing, “but if they can solve the problem, we’ll be happy. Because right now you’ve got ed techs being pulled out of classes right and left because you can’t have uncovered classes.”

Most mornings, the school day starts with an announcement calling all ed techs to the office, Martel said. Everyone knows that means principals are figuring out which ed tech will go to which class. “This has been going on for years,” Martel said.

Under Kelly, teacher subs will be paid the same as they are now: $70 to $80 a day, depending on their education. Kelly Educational Staffing will charge the Lewiston School Department $98 to $104 a day; the annual cost is estimated at $900,000 if Kelly is able to meet the 95 percent fill-in rate.

Kelly Educational Services spokesman David Steving of Pennsylvania said he was confident his company will.

The company operates in 35 states — not Maine — providing substitutes for 5,400 school districts. “We’re adding school districts as we speak.”

Local Kelly managers would be available to Lewiston schools. Before substitutes are hired, background checks are done.

“We meet all candidates,” Steving said. Current subs would no longer work for the Lewiston School Department; they would be Kelly Educational Staffing employees in what Steving said will be a seamless transition

“We invite them to come on board with Kelly Educational,” he said.

As soon as the contract is signed, the company starts building a network that recruits and maintains substitutes, Steving said. When teachers call out sick, principals will no longer scramble to find subs; Kelly will do that.

After a series of questions, committee member Tom Shannon said he supports the plan.

Lewiston schools not finding enough help has resulted in teacher stress and dissatisfaction because of extra work when educational technicians are taken out of classrooms, Shannon said.

“If we accomplish nothing more but providing better service to our kids and easing up the workload on elementary teachers, then we’ve accomplished two things we haven’t been able to do on our own,” Shannon said.

Committee Chairman Jim Handy opposed the contract because it did not go out to bid.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Handy said. “The taxpayers deserve a real open hearing of proposals. We didn’t put it out to bid. When we’re doing the public’s business, it’s incumbent on us to go the extra mile.”

The School Department said it contacted four companies. Two were not interested because of liability. Kelly and Bonney Staffing of Maine submitted offers. Bonney’s was the same price as Kelly, but Bonney but does not have experience providing teacher substitutes, committee members were told.

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Montello assistant principal hired; survey shows unhappy parents

LEWISTON — Amber Eliason, an Auburn elementary school teacher and coach, was approved Monday night as the assistant principal at Montello Elementary School, replacing Cynthia Gish.

Eliason starts her job in July.

Montello Principal Jim Cliffe said there was a large pool of applicants for what he called a “critical” position, “but Amber blew us away with what she was going to bring to the table.”

Eliason has experience teaching, coaching and supporting technology integration. She’s worked in Florida schools that have high numbers of poor and English Language Learner students, similar to what exists at Montello.

Eliason has worked at Washburn and Sherwood Heights schools in Auburn as a first-grade teacher and math coach.

“I look forward to a new set of eyes, a fresh look at things, continuing the work we’ve been doing at Montello,” Cliffe said.

Eliason thanked the committee for their support and said she’s excited to work for Lewiston schools.

In other business, parent Heidi Sawyer turned in results of an online survey of 120 parents that showed high concerns about a number of things in Lewiston schools.

Those concerns included too much standardized testing, implementation of the performance-based diploma starting with the Class of 2018, building a large elementary school, classroom sizes that are too large, the budget, and school administrators and School Committee members who aren’t listening to their concerns.

The number of parents in the survey may be small, Sawyer said, but there is a growing number of parents unhappy with several initiatives.

“They may not be picketing outside the Dingley Building, you must understand that they are in fact protesting,” Sawyer said. “Those protests are building some serious momentum.”

School officials can disregard that momentum as a small minority, “or join them and build something amazing,” she said.

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