Strapped School Districts Hire Fewer Teachers

August 04, 2009|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,liz.bowie@baltsun.com

With local governments cutting budgets during the recession and teachers unwilling to leave secure jobs, local school districts are hiring far fewer new teachers for the coming school year.

Baltimore County will be hiring about 350 fewer teachers than it did three years ago, and Howard County will need half the number of new teachers it hired just two years ago - about 200. Anne Arundel County has hired 140 new teachers, down from 500 the year before and 700 two years ago.

Even the city, which traditionally has opened schools with teacher vacancies and has unqualified teachers in some classrooms, will be hiring substantially fewer teachers, and many will come through programs such as Teach for America, which trains recent college graduates for two-year stints in urban school systems.

Baltimore, which used to hire about 800 new teachers each spring and summer, has hired only 465 this year and probably will open school with most positions filled. In addition, retirements and resignations are down from 454 to 257 this summer, city school officials said.

Much of the sluggish hiring has been caused by the poor economy, which gives teachers less flexibility to transfer to a different district or move to another career. "I will say it is playing a big part," said Donald Peccia, Baltimore County assistant superintendent for human resources.

The county hired 1,000 new teachers before the 2006-2007 school year, but this year Peccia expects that number to be about 650 and that the county will have few vacancies even in the traditionally difficult to staff areas of special education, math and science. The system does, he said, need an Italian/Spanish teacher.

Peccia contends that Baltimore County is improving its retention of teachers, saying that pay raises and better working conditions have helped stem the tide.

In the 2006-2007 school year, 800 teachers resigned in the county. Last year, there were only 350 resignations out of 8,950 teaching positions.

In some cases, budget cuts are forcing systems to reduce the number of positions and, therefore, the number of new teachers hired, said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Higher retention rates for teachers, he said, should be a priority for school systems because it is more cost-efficient to support and mentor teachers than to have frequent turnover.

Recent studies, he said, show that when working conditions for teachers improve, teacher retention and student achievement go up. The number of highly qualified teachers in classrooms has been on the rise across the state. In Baltimore County, 89 percent of low-income students are being taught by teachers the state considers qualified because they have training in the subject they are teaching and have been certified.

But Peccia said he has seen another change in new graduates entering teaching. "The groups of students who are going into public education are really committed to making a difference," he said.

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