- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Area school systems are trying to fill teacher vacancies before students return to classes over the next two weeks.
Prince George's County schools open Monday, and the district which needed around 1,000 teachers is now about 80 instructors short. Montgomery County also started out with 1,000 teacher vacancies in the spring and is looking for about 20 teachers before schools open Tuesday.
Fairfax County currently has about 25 vacancies, down from 1,400. Alexandria, which started out with 140 vacancies, still needs about 20 teachers for subjects such as English as a second language and reading. Classes resume Sept. 3 for both districts.
"There is a possibility that we may not be able to fill the positions by the time school opens and would look to bring in substitutes," said Randy Richards, director of recruitment and retention for Alexandria public schools.
The nationwide teacher shortage has made it difficult for school systems to find teachers in areas like special education, science and math over the past several years.
"It was very hard this year, as it has been in previous years," said Kevin North, director of employment services for Fairfax County public schools.
Several factors aggravate the shortage, including high teacher turnover and retirement rates and increasing student enrollment.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that one in five public school teachers quits within the first three years, and more than 9 percent quit before making it through one year.
Mr. North said turnover in Fairfax County is typically between 9 percent and 10 percent each year. He also said 1.6 percent of the county's new teachers had left by Feb. 1.
"There are various reasons for the turnover childbirth, teachers who get married and leave, or just move out of the area."
Local school enrollment is expected to rise again this year as it has over the past several years, except in the District.
"This week we added 10 positions based on enrollment," said Mr. North, who added that the school system revised its numbers weekly throughout the summer.
The District was looking for 400 teachers for this fall, and a spokesman said yesterday that all vacancies had been filled. D.C. schools open after Labor Day.
Recruiters say that while there is no lack of candidates to choose from in other areas, the pool of applicants for special education, math and science is typically very small. For instance, while the school system usually receives 13 resumes for a single teaching position in most subject areas, it gets just two for a job in special education, Mr. North said.
But overall, hiring teachers has been easier this year than in the past, recruiters said, because people were more reluctant to move out in a still-shaky economy.
"It has been a bit of a struggle for some school systems, but we have caught a bit of a break this year because of the economy," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
The state, which started out with 7,000 vacancies for this fall, had around 1,500 on Aug. 1. Mr. Reinhard said that number would be far lower this week, although he didn't have specific figures.
Mr. North said that Fairfax needed only 1,450 to 1,500 teachers this year, compared with 1,850 last year.
School systems have become more competitive and are offering better salaries to lure teachers.
Prince George's County schools spokeswoman Athena Ware said the district had given their teachers a 5.5 percent pay raise the biggest in the area this year to attract more teachers, particularly certified ones. The school district has the second-lowest number of certified teachers in the state.
The Prince George's County school system now offers teachers with bachelor's degrees starting salaries up to $35,225. After recent salary negotiations in the District, a teacher will now start with a salary of $35,260. Fairfax offers beginning salaries of $34,750, while Montgomery offers $36,841.

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