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Concerns with SubAssistant in Tacoma, setting the record straight

written by Justin Marty, product & client support manager

It's not often that SubAssistant makes the news, but when it does, we want to make sure the record is straight. An article published on February 20, 2016 by The News Tribune, a local publication covering the Tacoma, Washington area asked "What’s behind a decline in the number of Tacoma’s substitute teaching jobs?" The article's author, Debbie Cafazzo, presented three different angles: district administration, a local teacher's union, and anonymous substitute teachers.

The Tacoma Public School's district administration answered the question with empirical data, mostly that teachers absences are down, and by the hundreds.  

Lisa Nolan, Tacoma’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district has seen an overall increase in staff attendance this year.

“The need for substitutes is down,” she said.

Month-to-month comparisons between last school year and the current year illustrate the trend. In September, for example, there were 425 fewer absences this year compared to last year. In January, there were 103 more this year over last year.

But overall, there were 798 fewer absences from September to January this year compared to last year


Tacoma Public Schools uses the SubFinder management system to help automate the process of managing teacher absences and substitute placement. SubAssistant supports the SubFinder system and has users from the Tacoma district who utilize SubAssistant.

However, we're most concerned about the claims made by substitutes quoted in the article which allude to "foul play" by SubAssistant (and others). Below, we'll address each claim:

“If I want to work, I have to pay the subscription,” she said. In addition, she said, the apps mean the jobs go to those with “the quickest fingers,” not the most qualified. - anonymous substitute

SubAssistant doesn't give preferential treatment. SubFinder still makes its phone calls, as it always has, and SubAssistant doesn't (and can't) affect this. It is not possible to accept an available job online while the job is being called out, so those using SubAssistant or watching the online available jobs list are not competing with those waiting for a phone call. SubFinder lists jobs online only after it has finished calling substitutes by phone.   This is when SubAssistant "sees" them and sends notifications to its users. Any substitute, with or without SubAssistant, can sign in to SubFinder to view available jobs online.

Substitutes have complained that the apps are “intercepting” substitute job listings, sending them out first to those who pay a subscription fee for the apps

This is not true. SubAssistant doesn't have "special" access to the SubFinder system. SubAssistant accesses a substitute’s SubFinder account the same way a substitute would, and can only do things the sub can or cannot do. In this case, a substitute can't login to SubFinder and "intercept" jobs listings, therefore, SubAssistant cannot do this, either. A substitute can, however, log in at any time to see which jobs are available to accept. In the same way, SubAssistant can "see" when a job is available to accept. Substitutes have the same opportunity to accept an online job whether they use an app or SubFinder’s website.

Generally, the belief that apps can “intercept” jobs stems from not knowing that SubFinder (and other systems like it including Aesop and SmartFindExpress) can place substitutes into groups and preference lists that affects when a sub is offered a particular job. When a teacher places an absence in the system, the job that is generated isn't always made immediately available to all available substitutes. There is a bunch of criteria that determines which subs see jobs and at what times. Some subs see jobs hours, days, or weeks after other subs. District administration isn't always forthcoming about this and many subs simply don't notice until they start asking friends about the jobs they're seeing and comparing notes. Using a program like SubAssistant makes this easier because subs can easily keep a record of the job notifications they receive from SubAssistant. SubAssistant has no impact or control on these groups or lists configured within SubFinder.

We don’t know if or how Tacoma Public Schools utilizes groups and preference lists within SubFinder. If they do, it would follow that some substitutes are offerred certain jobs at different times than others, and some won't see the job at all.  

[The substitute teacher] signed up for a free trial of some of the apps, and received job notices through the apps that weren’t visible through Sub Finder.

Again, this is not possible, for many of the same reasons listed in the response above. SubAssistant can only "see" what the substitute teacher can see within SubFinder. If SubAssistant sends a job notice, then that job was offerred to that sub at that time from SubFinder. A misunderstanding of this nature usually occurs because a sub received a job notice, then immediately accesses his or her SubFinder account to find the job is not listed. The job is likely no longer listed because the job was quickly accepted by another sub, or the job was quickly canceled by the teacher or administrator who entered the absence.

SubAssistant was reviewed by CRS Advanced Technology (makers of SubFinder) and later by Frontline Technologies (purchased CRS and now owns SubFinder and Aesop) to ensure SubAssistant operates within acceptable limits and within the terms of any applicable agreements.

SubAssistant's purpose is a convenience utility for subs and it operates as a compliment to SubFinder (and Aesop). If SubAssistant were to operate in any way that circumvented the way the SubFinder or Aesop software is intended to function not only would be bad for business (for all parties), but it would be it would be illegal on a Federal level.

We at SubAssistant welcome the opportunity to discuss how SubAssistant works with anyone. If you have any questions or concerns, you may contact me directly by email at

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