Higher salaries, bonuses ease teacher hiring

August 18, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

With the ability to offer teachers higher salaries, more signing bonuses and an improved pension plan, Anne Arundel County school officials said this summer's recruiting season went more smoothly than usual.

More than 600 new teachers will be in county classrooms when school starts Aug. 28. Some came from as far away as the Philippines, while others came from neighboring jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, fewer teachers have retired, and only a small number of vacancies remain, according to school system officials.

"It's looking much better than last year," said Florie Bozzella, director of human resources. "Overall, it was a much easier summer."

Last year, the school system had to hire more than 900 new teachers.

Since then, the school system and teachers union negotiated a contract that gives 6 percent raises each of the next three years. The contract also changes the teacher pay scale and boosts the salary for beginning teachers with a bachelor's degree from $36,339 to $38,041, according to school system figures.

"I think that it made a big difference," Bozzella said. "And the enhancements to the pension program may have had some impact; some folks stayed a little longer to get the benefits of that."

After the 2004-05 school year, 172 teachers retired. As of Tuesday, only 79 who worked in the 2005-06 school year had retired, according to Bozzella.

Under the new statewide plan, which will be phased in, teachers who retire with 30 years of experience will get a benefit equal to 54 percent of their final salary. Current retirees collect a benefit equal to 38 percent of their salary.

New this year are bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 for teachers who agreed to work at one of the county's lowest-performing schools. Bonuses continue to be offered to those who teach subjects in which the school system had a hard time hiring, including special education, math, Spanish and English.

Now, a little more than a week before classes are scheduled to begin, school officials have 38 vacancies left to fill, mostly in special education. But Vanessa Bass, senior manager for recruiting and staffing, said that not all of those are full-time positions. Though she didn't have exact numbers, Bozzella said that the school system had more than double that number of vacancies at this time last year.

This school year will mark the first time that the school system has recruited from abroad. Sixteen teachers from the Philippines, all with five to 25 years of experience, are joining Anne Arundel's ranks.

One is a special education teacher; the others are high-level math and science teachers on the secondary school level - both critical shortage areas.

Bass and another official traveled to the Philippines in March. They interviewed 60 people over five days before choosing 16. The school system there is very similar to American systems, and many people speak English, Bass said.

Another reason for hiring the foreign teachers, she said, is to add diversity. Bass also hoped that the Filipino teachers would spark students' curiosity and interest in foreign travel. The teachers have cultural exchange visas and will return to the Philippines at the end of the school year.

"We're really excited to have them on board. We are hoping it will provide a good cultural exchange," Bozzella said.

But just as important as hiring new teachers is keeping them. All new teachers will be assigned a mentor as part of the school system's retention efforts.

The mentoring program attracted Mandy Joe, a recent Clarion University graduate who will teach at Glen Burnie High School. Joe, 24, said that the team-like atmosphere for teachers and the recruiters' friendliness also played larger roles than salary in her decision to come to Anne Arundel. She attended a three-day orientation session at Old Mill High School this week and said she left feeling inspired and less anxious.

"It was a fantastic experience," she said.anica.butler@baltsun.com

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