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Case Study

Recruiting Substitutes with Flexible Pay

How Azle ISD uses Wagestream through Frontline’s Absence Management to support substitute teachers, raise fill rates, and expand its substitute pool.

Azle ISD Hero Image

District Background

“If I’m not getting classrooms filled, then the students suffer.”

Shelley Unger is the Substitute Coordinator for Azle Independent School District, which sits in the middle of a booming housing market about 30 minutes northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. She expects the need for staff and substitute teachers to only grow, but like many districts, Azle ISD has found it harder to entice substitutes in their pool to accept jobs ever since the pandemic.

In 2019, Azle ISD’s substitute program was quite successful, with stellar fill rates and a substitute pool of around 400. Today, there are roughly half that number. “To me, any job unfilled is too many. We can run 10 to 20 unfilled absences a day throughout our whole district.” While Azle ISD experiences better fill rates than many surrounding districts due in part to higher pay, Shelley and her team are actively trying to encourage more substitutes to work at the district.

They are not only competing with other area school districts but also with large employers in other industries, many of whom offer coveted benefits such as flexible pay.

Immediate Access to Supplemental Income

Shelley estimates that close to half of the substitutes in the district are in vulnerable financial situations, and often see substitutes teaching or working gig-economy jobs to supplement their incomes — especially as energy prices and grocery costs rise — or to cover expenses in an emergency. But because Azle ISD operates on a monthly payroll cycle, some substitutes who would like to work more days at the district instead choose to take jobs at companies that offer flexible pay: the ability for employees to access wages immediately. “They’ve told me, ‘I can’t work today because I have got to go do DoorDash, because I have to pay a bill and I need my money tomorrow.’”

Shelley Unger Photo

“They’ve told me, ‘I can’t work today because I have got to go do DoorDash, because I have to pay a bill and I need my money tomorrow.’”

Shelley Unger
– Substitute Coordinator

Wagestream data shows that 86% of substitutes hold a second job, with 55% of subs holding three of more jobs. Shelley wanted to provide a competitive benefit to make it attractive for substitutes to work a job at the district by accessing their pay immediately as well. “I would say one fourth of our subs do those [gig economy jobs] on the side. I wanted to be competitive with that. I wanted them to come here more than to those companies and have access to their earned money if they needed it.”

Flexible Pay Without Payroll Complications

The team at Azle ISD began proactively looking for a way to offer flexible pay, but with the companies she contacted, the work needed to integrate with the Payroll Department was prohibitive and required extensive integrations. Then she heard about Wagestream, which makes it possible to offer flexible pay through Frontline’s Absence Management. “Wagestream actually worked with Frontline. We thought that technically it was a no-brainer, because we’re already on Frontline and the other companies were not,” Shelley said. “Our payroll department would have had to send them information and data and keep up with some of it. And with Frontline, we don’t have to do anything.”

Activating Wagestream took Shelley less than half a day. “They sent us an email asking when we wanted to go live. We gave them the date. They sent us an email with the follow up steps, step number one, step number two, step number three. And we followed the steps and it was done.”

Higher Fill Rates

In the first two months of using Wagestream, Shelley said the size of Azle ISD’s substitute pool has grown, and about 20% have enrolled in the program, even after just one training from the district. “The ones that use it, love it.”

Substitutes are more willing to accept jobs now, too. “Our fill rate used to run between 75 and 85 this year, and it’s up in the 90’s now. 90 to 100. It has definitely changed gears.”

“Our fill rate used to run between 75 and 85 this year, and it’s up in the 90’s now. 90 to 100. It has definitely changed gears.”

Shelley Unger
– Substitute Coordinator

For the first time since the beginning of the school year, there are now days when every absence is filled at the district — even on high-absence days such as Mondays. Even though Mondays can provide delivery drivers the opportunity to deliver larger orders and earn more money, Shelley said substitutes are now more likely to accept jobs with the district, rather than carry heavy grocery bags or put miles on their car.

Support for Team Members

Shelley mentioned one substitute who needed funds to help with a medical issue. Because Wagestream provided access to her earned wages without needing to wait until the end of the month, that substitute was able to schedule the medical care she needed in a timely manner, and she began picking up more substitute jobs to help cover the cost. “She worked more days in March. I saw her pick up her job acceptance and she was emailing me, ‘Hey, I’m working every day.’ And I thought that was odd because she hadn’t been working every day. And then that came across to me. The reason she was working every day in March was to access her wages through Wagestream because the March days weren’t going to be paid till April.”

When someone transfers their earned wages through Wagestream, they can either choose to access the money within 1-3 business days, which is free. Or, if they need the funds immediately, they can request an instant transfer for a flat fee of $2.99. Shelley said that option is helpful, especially in a pinch. “If their account gets overdrawn, they’re going to pay that versus a $35-40 NSF fee. It’s a good thing.”

A Competitive Recruiting Tool

Shelley plans to promote Wagestream over the summer to attract more substitutes to the district. “I think we’re going to see more subs come on, knowing that they can utilize that for the next school year,” she said. “In life, we never know what’s going to happen. A car wreck, a medical bill. And the flexibility of them being able to get their wages/pay before payday, I think is a huge recruiting tool.”

“I do think it’s going to give us an edge. We are already over, pay-wise, but just to offer that over the other districts, I think it’s going to give us one more bump.”

Shelley Unger
– Substitute Coordinator

As substitutes at Azle ISD continue to use Wagestream, Shelley is encouraging as many substitutes as possible to take advantage of it. She’s planning regular communications both to current substitutes and to others in the community who may be interested in substituting at Azle ISD. “The more information I share with them, the more it’s going to take off.”

Even for those who don’t plan on using it, she believes it can be a valuable safety net. “You never know what’s going to happen. You can at least get your account set up.”

Shelley sees Wagestream as one more way for the district to create a better substitute culture. “They’re a part of the Azle ISD team,” she said. “I want them to feel welcome when they come in. I want their pay to be adequate with the rising cost. They’re individuals too, just trying to make it day to day.”