- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

The cabdrivers and beauticians interviewing with a Washington-area school district seem like good candidates for the many unfilled bus driver positions, but they are not. They are being considered for jobs as teachers.

A few weeks into the school year, some districts are still struggling to find vital personnel: bus drivers, cafeteria workers even teachers.

Prince George's County, for example, still needs 125 teachers. Some principals complained that they were dealing with new instructors not skilled enough to handle classroom tasks well but they had little choice, given the number of vacancies.

"I had to fire one this week," said one principal who declined to be named. "I had no choice. But I still have empty classrooms."

"I lost one teacher after a few days," the principal added. "Recruiting in this environment is tough, and it's only going to get worse."

The principal said she had interviewed bus drivers, cabdrivers, beauticians and people in other professions with few instruction credentials.

"I would have hired them were they any good," the principal said.

"My biggest problem is so many of the teachers aren't teachers," another administrator said privately. "They have no training. They are struggling, but many don't have the work ethic it takes to do the job effectively."

Alexandria schools are still about 10 teachers short, although other school systems have filled all their teaching vacancies.

"We are in excellent shape right now," said Kevin North, director of employment services for Fairfax County, schools. He added, however, that more teachers are always needed because new programs are always being added.

Getting students to school continues to pose problems, as Prince George's, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties still suffer from a bus driver shortage.

Fairfax needs 100 bus drivers, Prince George's needs 50 to 100 drivers, Loudoun needs 25 drivers and Prince William needs as many as 70 drivers. The District has enough drivers to cover its routes but is looking for substitutes.

"It is a moving target," said Fairfax director of transportation Linda Farber, explaining that while some new drivers had been hired since school started, others had already left. "We're gaining ground very slowly."

In Loudoun, "we have been managing by getting some supervisors to drive buses until we fill the vacancies," said Wayde B. Byard, a spokesman for the county schools system.

Some districts must also contend with a lack of funding. Budget cuts for some Prince George's schools meant 90 schools lost up to 70 percent of their supplementary funding.

Rockledge Elementary in Bowie a National Blue Ribbon school with award-winning programs in art and technology lost six positions, Principal John Ceschini reported. He said he expects to get back two on appeal, but is not sure about positions for an art teacher and two instructional aides in reading.

"This hurts those students who need the extra reading help the most," he said.

Arlington managed to fill its teaching and bus driver positions, but faces a critical shortage in another area: its extended-day program, which provides care to children before and after school.

As many as 100 children are on the waiting list for admission to the program due to the staff shortage, said Patti Macie, coordinator for the extended-day program. The county needs to fill six vacancies in the morning program, and 32 in the afternoon, she said.

Otherwise, "things have been really, really quiet this year," said Jay Boyce, a spokesman for Arlington County schools. There were nine new principals in the county's schools last year, but just one new principal this year, he said.

Loudoun schools, for the first time, had a fully funded budget, which helped them start the school year with all teaching positions filled, Mr. Byard said.

The system hired 478 new teachers, wooing them by offering salary increases of 8 percent to 10 percent plus a 10 percent raise each year for the next few years, he said. It helped the county lure as many as 40 teachers away from neighboring Fairfax, he said.

School systems said student-teacher ratios remained about the same as last year but far from the ideal of 14 students per teacher.

In Fairfax, there are more than 24 children for each teacher, while the number in Alexandria is roughly 18 to 21 children per teacher, a spokesman said. In Loudoun, classroom sizes range from roughly 22 in elementary and middle schools to 26 in high schools.

T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria enrolled 2,000 students this year its largest enrollment in several years, Principal John Porter said.

Two trailers accommodated the extra students, Mr. Porter said, adding: "We've had a really good start."

There was some overcrowding at the beginning of the school year, with nearly 30 children in some classrooms, but schedule changes helped reduce class sizes in the school to the low to mid-20s, Mr. Porter said.

In Loudoun County, the fastest-growing school system in the area, "Our classroom sizes remained the same there have been no horror stories," Mr. Byard said.

Loudoun officials expected total enrollment to increase by 2,300 students this year. The county opened two elementary schools and one middle school this year and has plans to build 23 more schools over the next six years, Mr. Byard said.

In Prince George's, many schools such as Glassmanor Elementary in Oxon Hill had to create new classes because of increasing enrollments.

McCormick Elementary in Langley Park has no librarian. This is a good thing, new Principal Cheryl Logan explained, because the library is used for classes. Fortunately, two temporary classrooms were added last week.

"It's been smooth," Ms. Logan said of the first few weeks of school. "Besides, I just don't let the stress get to me."

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