WINTHROP — The Winthrop School Committee is increasing substitute teacher pay in an effort to attract more applicants and be competitive with surrounding school districts.

Effective Nov. 29, the daily pay for substitute teachers in Winthrop is to increase to $110 from $90.

All teaching professionals and paraprofessionals will be paid $130 a day.

Long-term substitute teachers will still receive $214 a day for at least 10 days of consecutive subbing.

Candidates must go through a background check and possess at least a high school diploma.

The move came unexpectedly, Superintendent James Hodgkin said in an interview Thursday, because the district has experienced a shortage in substitute teachers.

The possibility of increasing substitutes’ pay came up at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, and at previous meetings, as a suggestion from the community to help address teacher fatigue.

The district now must find money in the budget to pay the increased wages to substitute teachers.

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

“I want to make a decision that’s lasting and works financially,” Hodgkin said at Wednesday night’s meeting of the School Committee. “We can’t get anyone to sub, so it’s kind of OK (to raise the pay) so hopefully in better times, it will be the right decision to make.”

The pay increase for Winthrop’s substitute teachers puts the town more in line with some surrounding districts, although still paying less than some. Gardiner-based MSAD 11, for example, recently increased its daily substitute pay to $120 for uncertified teachers and $150 for certified, while the rate at Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2 is $110 a day for uncertified and $150 for certified substitute teachers.

Winthrop School Committee member Kelley Hooper said she was wary of raising the wages out of fear people could lose government-aided services, such as food stamps or Medicaid.

“If we increase the sub pay, someone who is currently regularly subbing and on food stamps or Medicaid, that could disqualify them for some of their services,” Hooper said. “That’s something to keep in mind. At what point are we doing a good thing or not so good thing.

“I know there are many transitional services available, but I wouldn’t want that to be a reason (substitute teachers) would step down — because they no longer qualify.”

Hodgkin said the district found three new substitutes this year after he advertised to his Rotary group, but the district always need more. He said he has thought of trying to woo college students as substitutes during their winter breaks.

Although the district has universal masking, social distancing and students participating in pool testing, these are not solutions to the number of COVID-19 cases it has faced over the past 30 days, according to officials.

Data from the Maine Department of Education shows Winthrop Grade School has had 28 positive COVID-19 cases. The outbreak at the grade school was so severe the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention ranked it among the top five in the state.

“We are no different than anyone else. We are struggling and could use a lot more,” Hodgkin said in an interview. “Most days, we do not get all the subs we need for all of our schools.”

The shortage of substitute teachers was a problem last year that has continued into the 2021-22 academic year. It has worsened due to increasing COVID-19 rates.

In Kennebec County, the highest single-day average since the start of the pandemic was recorded last week, according to the state CDC.

In RSU 2, bus transportation to Richmond’s schools has not run for three weeks because of staff members being out from complications related to COVID-19. Superintendent Tonya Arnold said in an interview Tuesday that like other school districts, RSU 2 “could benefit from subs.”

While Winthrop has not experienced a shortage of bus drivers because the district contracts for its bus service, officials said the town could use more educational technicians and help in school kitchens.

Similar to Winthrop’s plan, the Somerville-based Regional School Unit 12 board of directors has given Superintendent Howie Tuttle approval to research other school districts’ substitute teacher pay to see how it compares to RSU 12.

Tuttle told the RSU 12 board last Wednesday the district could use American Rescue Plan Act money to increase wages for up to two years.

“We will look at area rates,” Tuttle said, “and make them competitive.”

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