Teacher retirements increasing in Wyoming

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - One in five teachers in Wyoming is over the age of 55.

Soon, those baby boomers might start retiring at a rate faster than local colleges produce education graduates and quicker than school districts can recruit replacements, according to a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services report.

That could cause school districts’ recruitment costs to rise substantially, said Tom Gallagher, manager of research and planning for the department.

It might also make it harder - especially for rural districts - to find new teachers to replace those who leave.

In 2012, 14 percent of teachers across the state were eligible for retirement, according to the report. About 3 percent of the teaching workforce over the age of 55, or 259 teachers, actually left the industry.

That proportion will continue to grow as more baby boomers ages 50-68 retire, Gallagher said. He estimates a wave of teacher retirees will hit Wyoming schools in three to five years.

Just how dramatic that wave will be, however, is unclear.

“We know the shape of the animal,” Gallagher said. “We just don’t know how fast it can run.”

With increased retirements, school districts would face more recruiting costs. That could cause critical decisions about where a district would cut costs to pay for finding and training new teachers.

“Let’s say we have to hire headhunters,” Gallagher said. “Where are we going to get the money? What are we going to cut?”

The Legislature can pour all the money it wants into school districts, but if districts can’t recruit the teachers they need, their ability to educate is limited, Gallagher told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1luzdZo).

Besides increased costs for recruitment, schools may face tougher competition for qualified teachers.

Although there was a significant increase in the number of education-related graduates at the University of Wyoming between 2011 and 2012, the number of people earning education degrees in Wyoming is small compared with other states, the report says. In 2012, UW awarded 289 education degrees.

Gallagher doesn’t know how many students with education-related degrees from UW teach in the state after graduation. That’s part of the department’s next report to the Legislature, due in the fall.

But he does know that most industries face more difficulty recruiting workers to rural areas than metropolitan areas, where economies tend to be more diversified.

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