Recruiting and keeping good teachers

School board asks businesses to offer package of incentives

April 23, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | By TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

While nearly every school system in the country is scrambling to find teachers - courting them with letters, gifts and signing bonuses - the Howard County school board is getting help from local businesses in trying to put together a package to offer to prospective teachers.

A task force seeking ways to better hire and retain teachers is reaching out to the business community in hopes it will help the county's educators with everything from banking to buying clothes. The effort is unique in the Baltimore region, as most jurisdictions have left businesses out of the equation.

"The recruitment and retention of teachers is everyone's job," said Mamie Perkins, who heads the school system's human resources office and sits on the Human Resources Advisory Committee.

"A lot of people come to live here because of the schools," she said. "It's to everyone's benefit to ensure our schools have effective teachers."

A survey of teachers indicated they could use a hand in borrowing from banks, discounts on school supplies, better costs for recreational activities such as gym memberships, help with child care, lower rents, discounted hotel stays so that candidates can take a look at the community and discounts on a professional wardrobe for students just out of college, Perkins said.

A subcommittee of the school board group is drafting a letter to some of the county's largest employers, asking business leaders to consider how they can address the issue of teacher retention and recruitment and perhaps note the kinds of discounts and services they could provide to teachers.

"We know there's only so much we can do with teacher salaries," said Susan Porter, a board member for the county Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the educational partnerships subcommittee.

"The package is going to be something that says `we think [teachers are] important, and we think the job you do is important,'" she said. "Regardless of what this adds up to in dollars, one of our goals is to continue to improve the status of teachers in this county. This says the business community recognizes the importance of teachers."

The group is first targeting 200 companies that employ hundreds of workers or have a high percentage of employees who live in the county. The county teachers union has a program that offers discounts to union members at about 10 companies, but the program under development would be available to all teachers - union or nonunion.

"If [business leaders are] doing it as well, that's wonderful," said Joseph R. Staub, president of the Howard County Education Association. "It's great to see they're showing concern. We'd be happy to work with them."

Teachers say that any assistance to help stretch their salaries would be very helpful.

"Something as simple as [discounts on] wardrobe - that's incredibly helpful," said Heidi Liggins, who lived with her parents for three years before getting married.

"It's important to look the part," she said. "You're conferencing with parents, you want to look professional and adult."

The group would like to see what ideas business leaders come up with to address the issue, but they have a few of their own, Porter said. Members will focus on eight areas of concern noted in the teacher survey - housing, health care, banking and clothing among them, and encouraging local businesses to offer discounts.

The hope is that business leaders will encourage each other to pitch in, she said.

People in companies that may not have services to offer - technology businesses, for example - could speak to their bankers about offering better interest rates for teachers or donate money for signing bonuses, she said.

"It's not the school system, it's not the teachers' union holding out their hand, it's businesses asking businesses, saying it makes good business sense," Porter said. "We can only attract new businesses by having a good school system, and a good work force."

The Human Resources Advisory Committee met this year to begin a two-year effort to help the county hire and retain teachers.

Nevertheless, the educational partnerships subcommittee is not likely to have a package of business discounts that recruiters can take with them this hiring season, Perkins said.

But whenever recruiters can tell a prospective employee that the county's businesses are helping to make teachers' lives easier, Perkins said she'll take it.

"I understand that if we're going to have something substantial, it may take some time to get it together," she said. "When you go outside the state, it really makes sense to have a good package. We want to sell the county as a good place to work and to live and to stay."

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