Hiring is tough task for schools

Systems compete to staff hard-to-fill subjects, find `highly qualified' teachers

July 24, 2005|By Hanah Cho and Liz F. Kay | Hanah Cho and Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

As they enter the last five weeks of summer vacation, school systems across Maryland are scrambling to fill thousands of vacancies because of turnover, retirements and newly created positions.

Adding to the annual hiring frenzy is competition among school systems nationwide to hire the "highly qualified" teachers required by the end of the next school year under a federal accountability law. They also are coping with a chronic shortage of candidates for hard-to-fill subject areas such as science, foreign language and special education.

"We're competing in the national marketplace," said John Smeallie, Maryland's assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation. "The competition has probably gotten tighter."

Howard County schools recruiter Susan Mascaro has seen it firsthand: "Candidates are shopping for school systems," she said.

State education officials are still gathering data from districts on the number of new hires they expect to make for the 2005-2006 school year - July 15 was the statewide deadline for teachers to submit resignations without penalty.

But if projections hold true, Maryland school systems can expect to hire about 6,000 new teachers for next school year, down from a peak of more than 7,600 for the 2000-2001 school year. State education officials attribute the drop to such factors as budget constraints, level enrollments, and fewer retirements and long-term leaves.

To make sure they have staff in place before the first day of school - Baltimore-area districts start classes Aug. 29 - school headhunters started recruiting early, even traveling to foreign countries such as the Philippines.

Baltimore County offered cash incentives to teachers who take positions at Title I schools - those with a larger proportion of low-income children - while Howard County handed out $1,000 signing bonuses to the first 125 candidates hired to teach in critical-needs areas.

Mascaro, Howard's manager of teacher recruiting and hiring, said candidates have become more knowledgeable about the job market - and expect more.

"Absolutely, they know salaries," said Mascaro, who traveled to job fairs as far away as Texas. "They'll come to your booth and ask you about incentives and signing bonuses, unlike three years ago. They ask about new-teacher support and mentoring programs.

"They are a savvy group," Mascaro said.

Across the state, school districts are having a hard time finding teachers in special education, math, science and foreign language. Those subjects are deemed areas of critical need by state and local education officials. Teaching candidates in such fields are very marketable, recruiters say.

Case in point: One candidate certified in math submitted his application this month for a job in Howard County - less than two months before classes begin.

"He wasn't worried," Mascaro recalled. "He'll have six to seven job offers wherever he goes. There's a lot of competition."

She added, "For the critical-needs areas, it's absolutely a teacher's market."

Adding urgency to recruitment this year is a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act that all teachers in core subjects - English, reading, math, science, social studies, foreign language, economics, geography and arts - be "highly qualified" by the end of the next school year. Otherwise, schools risk losing federal funds.

In Maryland, recent data show that the percentage of classes not taught by "highly qualified" teachers has declined to 24.7 percent this year, from 33.1 percent in 2004. Suburban school systems tend to fare better than urban systems.

"We're gratified to be moving in the right direction," Smeallie said. "Clearly, we have challenges around the state to meet that target."

But while the demand continues to be high, the local supply of teachers generally has not met hiring needs.

Maryland colleges and universities historically have produced about 2,500 teaching candidates. The majority of them are elementary and early-childhood-education teachers, two areas "never on the critical-shortage list," according to the state's most recent teacher staffing report.

"Everybody wants to teach the little children," said Florie Bozzella, Anne Arundel County school system's director of human resources.

That puts pressure on the local school systems. In addition to holding their own drives, recruiters attended more than four dozen job fairs this year, both in-state and out, traveling as far west as California.

"We go out of state for two reasons," Mascaro said, "because of competition in the critical-needs areas and because of competition for minority educators."

Baltimore City and Baltimore County recruited in the Philippines.

Although Baltimore did not have a final tally of its vacancies, spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt said the school system has hired 58 teachers from the Philippines. An additional 40 are expected to arrive in the fall, she said.

City schools officials have said that recruiting teachers for middle schools is their top priority this summer.

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