Tribune survey of district leaders highlights new reality
Recruiting teachers has become a challenge for area public school leaders, according to an Evening Tribune survey.
Superintendent Rich Calkins told the Alfred-Almond board last week of the dramatic decrease in qualified teacher candidates: Eight years ago the district typically received dozens of well-qualified applicants for each vacant position, he said.
“This past school year we were lucky to get six applications for each teaching position,” he said. The issue was worse “because of the dearth of qualified candidates” for current vacancies, Calkins told board members.
Calkins and Alfred-Almond are not alone facing this barrier to teacher recruitment.
Hornell City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Palotti said “hiring has become increasingly more challenging for teaching positions. Not too long ago we would have 100 plus teachers for every elementary teaching position.
“Plus filling unique positions such as technology, foreign language, English as a second language, math, science and even high school English have been especially tough,” he said.
Palotti blames “a lot of factors: we could still be rebounding from several years of budget cuts and teacher layoffs with limited numbers of teacher vacancies when hiring was not happening.
“Possibly fewer people went into the profession or to teacher colleges during these times due to limited job opportunities that were available from approximately 2008 to 2013,” Palotti said.
Additionally, the proliferation of “changes in teacher assessments, evaluations and standards may have convinced college students that a teaching career wasn’t for them,” he said.
At the same time, “New York State Education Department also changed the retirement system for new teachers, making the benefit structure less lucrative,” he said.
“My personal belief is that a combination of these factors made entering the teaching profession less desirable,” he said.
Avoca Superintendent Stephen Saxton agreed alternative careers may have been more attractive: “Teacher shortages, especially for those with knowledge in more technical and science-based areas, directly relates to the booming technology and industry fields in the private sector.
“Those college graduates with interest and skill in these areas are attracted to the more financially lucrative private sector where a highly qualified candidate can earn two to three times as much as a beginning teacher.
“People also are more mobile and leaving jobs primarily because they can. The demand for teachers now allows people to relocate to the area they prefer to live versus where they had to live in order to find a job.
“The glut of teachers from 2009 and 2010 scared people away from teaching careers and has left a vacuum that is not easy to fill due to the low beginning teacher wage scale,” he said.
Canaseraga Superintendent Chad Groff agreed. “Some in educational administration believe our teacher shortages can be linked back to the concerns a number of years ago around student testing and the changes in teacher evaluation. I think some graduating high school students or college students in education programs determined that it wasn't worth joining an industry in such turmoil.”
He continued: “We are seeing great difficultly finding candidates in the high school content areas, especially in the sciences and special education. One issue that impacts the special education arena is the change in certification classification. The state previously had a K-12 special education certification that permitted professionals to take positions across the grade level continuum. That is not the case now.
“Furthermore there are rumblings that there might be more changes, but nothing concrete has been modified at this point,” he said.
Groff introduced another complication in teacher recruitment: recruited teachers moving from school to school. “School districts are now hiring each other's teachers. Some teachers decide they want to make a change to be closer to home, earn a higher wage, or just for the challenge of working in a different school system.
“When school districts hire other teachers, it creates a domino effect: openings create hiring which creates more openings. This becomes especially problematic when we approach the end of August and are forced to make changes after the school year begins.”
This reporter knows of other area districts that have the same challenges and are struggling to fill vacant positions as the opening days of the new school year approach.