- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Area education officials are looking to fill thousands of teaching jobs in the midst of a nationwide shortage and with the new school year about seven weeks away.
Maryland, which started out with 8,000 vacant teacher positions in the summer, still needs to fill about half of those, a spokesman for the state Department of Education said.
Fairfax County, the area's largest school system, is hiring 1,700 educators for fall, while Montgomery County and Prince George's County each will hire about 1,000 new teachers. The District needs between 400 and 600 teachers, while Alexandria needs 140 teachers.
The declining numbers of graduates from teacher colleges and increasing numbers of retiring teachers is aggravating the situation, education officials say.
"Maryland colleges do not produce the numbers of teachers we need. They produce about 2,200 teachers each year, but there still is a gap of about 6,000," said Bill Reinhard, Maryland Department of Education spokesman. Mr. Reinhard said school systems often send teams to other states to recruit aggressively.
Shortages are particularly acute in special education, math and science, and school systems typically receive fewer applications for these jobs. Kevin North, director of employment services for Fairfax County schools, said that while other teaching jobs would attract an average of 13 resumes for each position, a special-education teaching job attracts just two.
There also are other factors that aggravate the shortage, including high teacher turnover rates, increasing student enrollment and large numbers of teachers retiring over this decade.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that one in five public school teachers quit within the first three years, and more than 9 percent quit before making it through one year.
"Teaching's tough work. It is a difficult job," said Richard J. Baumgartner, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the county's largest teachers union.
He said that teacher workload had increased dramatically over the 30 years since he first became a teacher, and that an average teacher put in as many as 15 to 20 extra hours a week.
A 1994 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that teachers in public schools tend to be older than people in other professions a fact that could lead to a wave of teacher retirements over the next few years.
School systems also are insisting more often that teachers be certified, reducing the applicant pool. "We are hiring more certified teachers and less provisionally certified ones," said Athena Ware, a spokeswoman for the Prince George's County school system, which has the second-highest number of uncertified teachers in Maryland, after Baltimore city.
The number of students in area schools is expected to increase once again this year, creating an even greater need for teachers. And it is anticipated that enrollment will go up in every school district in the area, except for the District, where the number of students actually has been dropping over the past few years.
Despite the demands, recruiters say this year has been a little easier on them than the recent past, partly due to the still-troubled economy, which is causing teachers to stay put.
Some also attribute a change in attitudes after the terrorist attacks.
"This year has been better than the previous year because people have refocused their thoughts after September 11 on fulfillment. There appears to be quite an influx of people moving into education," Mr. North said.
In Fairfax, he said, several candidates have been interviewed already, and officials are confident all vacancies will be filled by the start of the school year.
"Many teachers have been hired and others are already in the processing stage. We are well on our way," he said.
In Montgomery County, spokes-man Brian Porter said more than 500 teachers have already been hired.
The District, too, has had "a healthy response so far," said David Sigler, the school system's director for teacher recruitment. Mr. Sigler said the system had interviewed about 700 candidates for the nearly 500 open teacher positions.
To improve their competitiveness, school districts have raised salaries in many positions.
The Prince George's County school system recently gave its teachers a 5.5 percent raise, taking starting salaries up to $35,225.
In the District, too, after recent salary negotiations, a teacher will now start with a salary of $35,260.
Fairfax offers beginning salaries of 34,750, while Montgomery offers $36,841.
But the number of vacancies is not final yet. Officials said there could be more resignations in the pipeline. the deadline for most area school systems is July 15 when school employees must notify most area school systems about their plans to leave.
In the District, resignations could flow in as late as August, Mr. Sigler said.
"There is no definitive number right now," said Mr. Reinhard.
He said some teachers could be holding off on their resignations because they are concerned about the economy.
"They might be delaying decisions," he said.

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