Teacher search intensifies

Systems compete more to fill their shortages

April 08, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

In the competitive hunt for increasingly scarce teaching candidates, even the top dogs are scrambling.

Despite having what many consider the state's top school system, Howard County is struggling to fill teaching slots in some subject areas -- so much so that officials are considering offering some new teachers a cash bonus to work in the county.

The school board will vote this afternoon on whether to give new teachers in "critical need" areas $1,000 in exchange for teaching at least one school year and completing new-teacher orientation. The shortage areas -- special education, science, math, reading, technology education, occupational and physical therapy and English as a second language -- mirror gaps statewide and reflect an overall teacher shortage, educators across Maryland say.

"We're all fighting for the same people," said Sharon Doyle, supervisor of teacher personnel for Anne Arundel County schools.

Feeling the pinch, school systems in the region are doing what they can to attract instructors.

The need is so dire in Baltimore that a foundation and a developer have joined forces to renovate a vacant apartment building to appeal to young teachers.

Carroll County school officials have expanded their recruiting to more colleges and hope to increase the school system's beginning teacher salary.

To fill certain vacancies, Carroll County also is trying to get teacher recruits under contract as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the summer.

"The applicants are only out there for a very short period of time," said Bill Rooney, director of human resources for Carroll County schools. "You have to take advantage of that and get them under contract as early as possible. Surely, we'd like to offer many, many financial benefits, but when you have to work within your budget it gets very difficult to do that."

Anne Arundel County educators are discussing hiring incentives, but they are keeping specifics under wraps to avoid tipping off the competition.

Doyle did acknowledge that the school system was working on a recruitment video.

Among other extras, the Baltimore County school system offers all new hires a one-time, interest-free loan, and has joined with local businesses to offer discounts on services such as apartment rental.

"We are not able, because of our volume, to offer signing bonuses at this time," said John Smeallie, director of personnel for Baltimore County schools. "We're certainly beginning to look at that as other people enter that market."

In an effort to be more competitive, the Harford County school system is beginning to phase in a three-year salary enhancement for teachers, said spokesman Donald R. Morrison.

Like Howard County, Harford is beginning to experience a shortfall of teachers in key subject areas, and Morrison said that 42 percent of the teaching staff is within seven to eight years of retirement.

"We're seeing critical shortages begin to crop up," Morrison said. "I think we see ourselves reaching a breaking point."

Despite the school system's second-place performance on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, Morrison noted that Harford ranks 20th in the state in average teacher salaries.

Last school year, an experienced teacher in Harford County with a bachelor's degree and a standard professional certificate would have made a maximum of $34,555. The same teacher would have made a maximum of $40,672 in Howard County, $47,131 in Baltimore City and $42,398 in Carroll County.

"We're the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues," he said.

Smeallie said Maryland has a high demand for teachers, and the state colleges yield only 2,500 education graduates a year -- graduates that could be hired by Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties alone.

"There's always been a gap," Smeallie said. "Historically, we as well as other school systems go outside of Maryland to areas where there is a good supply of teachers."

The combination of a strong economy, increasing mobility and turnover, and the looming retirement of a wave of baby boomer-aged teachers has contributed to the shortage, he said.

"The economy is booming, and that means unemployment is very low," he said. "People have more employment choices. Particularly for people in math and science, there are many opportunities to make more money than teaching."

Complicating matters is the fact that some programs -- technology education, for example -- are no longer offered to education majors at some colleges.

Kirk Thompson, a Howard County school system human resources specialist, said the new focus on reading in Maryland has made the demand for teachers with certification in that area especially high.

"The supply [of teachers] hasn't kept up with the demand," he said. "The problem is going to escalate across the state in the next few years."

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