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Medford outsources its subs

The Medford School District is outsourcing its substitute teachers and classified staff to a private company based in Beaverton.

The board voted 5-1 in May to give a substitute service called EMS Sub Desk a three-year contract of at least $1.5 million to recruit, train, hire and schedule its substitutes, meeting minutes show.

According to its website, EMS Sub Desk has contracted with 12 school districts in Oregon, many of which are based in Multnomah and Washington counties. Under the contract, EMS Sub Desk provides Medford two local positions to manage the entirety of the substitute program, including payroll and performance evaluations, for a service fee of 20 percent.

“We are very excited to work with EMS Sub Desk on this,” said Brad Earl, the district's chief operations officer. “Especially with the new recruiting position, which we believe is going to create a pool of prospects for us.”

Other districts, including Central Point, Ashland, Eagle Point, Prospect and Rogue River, have received substitute services from Southern Oregon Education Service District since 2012.

Medford kept the service in-house until district officials found out last year that their manual system would eventually force them to hire an additional staff member to manage paperwork for the substitute programs.

“We were in the position where we needed a more comprehensive system,” Earl said. “And EMS Sub Desk stood out as an excellent service at the time.”

Medford budgeted about $2.5 million for substitutes this year and is anticipating to save about $130,000 by the end of 2019-2020, its cost analysis shows.

Substitute teachers and staff will get paid weekly at the same rate as before, which is set by the state, Earl said.

However, qualifications for the Public Employees Retirement System and health benefits for the substitutes have changed because they are no longer public employees, Earl said.

“The District would no longer have to pay PERS for substitute salaries, including sick leave, or be responsible for worker’s compensation payroll costs and claims, unemployment payroll costs and claims, for the substitutes or health care benefits for the few that meet those qualifications,” according to the district’s executive summary attached to the April 24 meeting agenda.

Earl said he doesn’t believe EMS Sub Desk is paying PERS for the substitutes. The district has received inquiries only about the management system and pay dates, he said.

Medford Education Association President Troy Pomeroy said the outsourcing service is not a concern to the union.

“It’s too early to tell whether this is working out or not,” Pomeroy said. “I have heard of a few hiccups at the beginning, but it has been easy to work with them ever since.”

Human Resources Director Peggy Stock said many substitutes didn’t qualify for the benefits anyway. Per Oregon law, substitute teachers have to work at least six months before they are qualified for PERS.

“And we never pay for PERS either — the 6 percent comes out of their paychecks,” Stock said. “So now without that, they are getting a larger paycheck.”

Under the contract, retired teachers who come back to sub are also no longer limited by a certain amount of hours, Stock said.

“As public employees, retired teachers who sub can’t work over 1,039 hours because it would affect their PERS,” she said. “Now there’s no cap on how many hours they could work.”

Substitutes can now also request to sub in other districts that EMS Sub Desk contracts with, according to EMS Sub Desk website.

The district has been pleased with the service the past month, Earl said, with a fill rate of 98 percent for classroom and 75 percent for classified positions.

“But there’s definitely room for improvement,” he said. “We heard complaints and of course we will continue to work to make it better for everyone.”

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com. Follow her on twitter at @nguyenntrann.