Midyear teacher departures hampering schools' efforts

Officials find it harder to fill instructors' slots

March 31, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Though teachers who quit in the middle of the year have always caused disruptions in Howard County classrooms, school officials find that they are increasingly having trouble finding replacements.

The 1999 Hiring and Separation report, compiled by the school system's Human Resources office and released last week, shows that between October 1998 and September 1999, 20 percent of the 182 teachers who resigned did so during the school year.

And 12 of those positions remained vacant the rest of the year, said Human Resources Director Mamie Perkins.

"I don't know that people know how hard it is on a school when vacancies occur that we cannot fill," she said.

Board member Stephen C. Bounds knows how hard it is on students -- especially his son, a sophomore at Glenelg High School.

Bounds' son is enrolled in an Advanced Placement computer science course so difficult that officials had a hard time finding a someone to teach it.

This semester, the teacher left to take a job at a software company.

"What I understand is that he turned them down several times and they kept upping the compensation until he finally couldn't say `no,' " Bounds said. "And so he broke his contract and quit."

As a result, Bounds said, he's worried that students in the class will be unable to pass the AP exam this spring that allows them to earn college credit.

Perkins said it is more difficult to fill vacancies in "critical need" areas such as science, computers, math, reading specialists and foreign languages because teachers who possess those related skills are in demand all over, including in the business community.

"The tighter the market gets, the more problematic midyear vacancies get," Perkins said. "The candidates are not there. They're already hired."

And, Perkins added, "depending on what it is they're looking for, a computer science person coming into the school system is going to make substantially less than if he went into private business."

The school district offers signing bonuses to teachers in specialty areas, but Perkins said more businesses offer perks as well.

"There was a time that those were carrots that we could dangle, but they [businesses] figured out that they have to do the same things that we have to do," Perkins said.

Teachers who break their contract face few repercussions, Perkins said.

The contract says they will forfeit any accrued salary and more than likely won't ever be hired again in Howard public schools.

Other than that, the district can't do much to deter teachers from leaving, especially if they have extenuating circumstances. Perkins said the district isn't considering making the consequences more stringent.

"It's not heinous yet," Perkins said about the growing number of teachers leaving midyear. Bounds said the brain drain of teachers in the middle of the school year is made worse when the school district's neighbors are doing the draining.

"What really troubles me is that this is a Howard County business that has essentially pirated one of our teachers midyear," Bounds said, "leaving multiple classes of students in a complete lurch. There is no ability for the school system to replace that level of teacher right away. High-level computer science teachers are hard to replace between school years."

Bounds was so outraged that he asked Howard County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ken Williams to ask the chamber to take a position against such practices.

"Howard County employers should not entice teachers away, hurting students," Bounds said. "At the end of the year, they're fair game. We'd still hate to lose them, but at least you'd have a chance to replace them."

Bounds said Williams indicated that the chamber wouldn't support such a position.

But Williams said yesterday he was waiting for Bounds to write a letter to the chamber requesting members to look into the issue.

"However, employment practices of the school system and employment practices of the business community are private issues to those organizations," Williams said. "I think it would be difficult for the chamber to take a position demanding that the businesses don't look for employees wherever they can."

Bounds and Williams both said the chamber might be able to come up with a compromise -- supplying replacement "teachers" from the business community when vacancies occur. "We are certainly concerned about the shortage of teachers and look forward to working with the school system to address that," Williams said.

Perkins said the school district also is looking into doing something to curb the flow of teachers who leave midyear.

At the district's first teacher job fair last night held at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville, Perkins said recruiters discussed with potential teachers the idea that breaking a contract is serious.

"We're adding a new piece in there about the importance of a contract and what it means," Perkins said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.