With about five weeks left in students' summer vacation, Carroll school officials are ahead of schedule in filling teacher vacancies for the new school year.
School administrators have hired 134 of the 158 new teachers they need by Aug. 25 when classes start again, putting the school system in good shape going into the final weeks of hiring, they said.
"From what I understand, we are ahead of years past in terms of having only 23 or 24 vacancies left," said Jimmie Saylor, the school system's human resources director, noting statistics from Wednesday, the most recent available.
"We're still interviewing, we're still offering jobs, and I feel sure we'll be ready in five weeks," she added.
Saylor credits this year's recruiting successes and a significant drop in teacher retirements and resignations with keeping the school system ahead of schedule in filling vacancies, despite a statewide and national teacher shortage.
"We did a lot of recruiting this year," Saylor said. "We held our own job fair and got great results from that."
The employment open house - held in June at Carroll Community College - attracted nearly 400 prospective job candidates and was deemed such a success that the school system might schedule two next year.
Recruiters for the school system also visited 60 job fairs between October and May, traveling across Maryland and as far as Ohio, New York and Georgia to interest potential teachers.
The early legwork means that even at this late date, with summer vacation more than halfway spent and back-to-school displays going up in stores, hiring supervisors in Carroll schools have choices.
"We still have a lot of applicants," Saylor said. "We're going through them, and we still have candidates to interview. We're really lucky in that regard."
Also, fewer vacancies have to be filled this year. Half as many teachers retired or resigned this year as in years past, Saylor said.
Asked about the drop in the number of teacher departures, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said, "I like to think it's because they're happy with their students and the support they receive from school administrators and central office administrators."
He also credited the county's pay package with attracting - and keeping - teachers in Carroll County.
The starting salary for Carroll teachers this year is $33,292, although novice instructors earn an extra $1,100 for attending weeklong training next month for new teachers.
Teachers at top scale - those with 30 years' experience, a master's degree and 60 additional credits of graduate coursework - earn $67,500.
Carroll County ranked 12th in entry-level pay among Maryland's 24 school systems and 10th in top-scale pay, according to statewide teacher salary data from last year.
But Carroll school officials are quick to point out that county teachers pay less each year for medical coverage than their colleagues in other systems.
This year, Carroll teachers pay 11 percent - or $1,090 of the $9,908 annual bill for family coverage - of health insurance premiums.
"Our salary scales might not be as competitive as other counties, but when you couple that with the benefits package, it's very competitive," Ecker said. "Carroll County is also an attractive place to teach. Our test scores are very good in comparison with other places. Teachers and school administrators have a lot of flexibility. ... It's a good place to be."