School hiring falls short

Hundreds of teachers sought as Md. schools prepare to reopen

'Only going to get worse'

Principals expect to fill most vacancies in last-minute rush

August 12, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

With less than three weeks to go until students start returning to classes, Maryland's school systems are scrambling through the tightest teacher market in two decades to make sure all classrooms will be filled with certified staff.

Baltimore's five suburban school systems report they still need nearly 300 of the more than 2,200 teachers they expected to hire this summer, and the city schools -- ahead of previous years with 590 teachers hired -- hope to fill another 243 vacancies.

"We're all hoping for a last-minute flourish to fill those final positions," says William Rooney, Carroll County's director of personnel.

This year's hiring campaign offers an early glimpse of the overwhelming teacher shortage projected by state and national educators.

"We've been seeing this coming for the past two years, where it gets a little harder each year," says John E. Smeallie, director of personnel for Baltimore County schools. "Over the next few years, it's only going to get worse."

Maryland's public schools hired about 5,600 teachers last year, and as many as 11,000 new teachers a year will be needed by September 2001. The growing demand stems from increasing student enrollments, a wave of anticipated baby-boomer retirements and efforts to reduce class sizes.

Meanwhile, the state's colleges and universities graduate 2,500 new teachers every year, and they do not expect that number to increase.

But not all teachers are in equal demand for this month's vacancies.

While a handful of elementary and early childhood positions have yet to be filled, the biggest needs are for teachers certified in special education, upper-level math and science, foreign languages, libraries and technology education.

"Those are the perennial shortage areas," says Lawrence E. Leak, the state's assistant superintendent for certification and accreditation. "But from what I hear, it's getting more and more difficult for the local systems to find qualified teachers in almost every area."

To be sure, the number of remaining teacher vacancies isn't significantly greater than at this time last year, and personnel directors are confident they will fill almost all of the openings before classes begin.

And the city school system reports being far ahead of past years in hiring qualified teachers -- largely due to an earlier start and an effort to seek more applicants from outside the Baltimore area. "I'm very pleased with the substantial improvement in our recruiting efforts," says city Chief Executive Officer Robert Booker.

Still, even the suburban school systems are seeing an increase in the number of new teachers who are breaking recently signed contracts for better offers elsewhere. In Harford County, that number was less than five just two years ago, and it might be as high as 30 this summer, says Kathleen Eng, that system's assistant superintendent for human resources.

This summer, even the state's elementary education majors -- who in the past few years have had to confront a shortage of positions, particularly in the suburbs -- seem to have been snapped up.

Four years ago, 50 or 60 recent graduates applied for a handful of part-time positions in a preschool program organized by a Towson University professor. This summer, only three people have applied so far, says Dennis Hinkle, dean of Towson's College of Education.

Recruiting and bonuses

With such a shortage of home-grown teachers, schools are being forced to work harder to recruit from states that produce more teachers than they can hire, such as Pennsylvania.

Both the state and local school systems have begun initiatives to recruit more teachers, and last month state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick previewed a series of proposals to persuade more high school and college students to consider teaching.

For example, Howard County offered $1,000 signing bonuses to the first 100 teachers certified in that district's critical-need areas -- including special education, occupational therapy and technology education, says Mamie Perkins, Howard's director of personnel.

"The signing bonuses seemed to really help us get teachers to commit early on," Perkins says. With only 100 of the bonuses in the school system's budget, teachers raced to make the cut -- and the 101st eligible teacher missed out on the bonus by turning in a contract just a few hours too late.

The Howard schools have a task force looking at additional incentives for next year, as do most other systems.

In fact, personnel directors say that hiring has to become a year-round task. They're taking more recruiting trips to out-of-state colleges and holding heavily advertised job fairs.

"Everybody in this system has to be a recruiter," says Smeallie in Baltimore County. "It's been that way for several years, and it's paying dividends."

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