- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — School systems across Maryland are scrambling to fill thousands of vacancies this summer because of turnover, retirements and newly created positions.

The annual hiring frenzy is compounded by competition among school systems nationwide to find “highly qualified” teachers required under a federal accountability law. Schools also face a chronic shortage of candidates for hard-to-fill subject areas such as science, foreign language and special education.

“We’re competing in the national marketplace,” said John Smeallie, Maryland’s assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation. “The competition has probably gotten tighter.”

Howard County schools recruiter Susan Mascaro said, “Candidates are shopping for school systems.”

State education officials say that if projections hold true, Maryland school systems can expect to hire about 6,000 new teachers for the next school year, down from a peak of more than 7,600 for the 2000-01 school year.

State education officials attribute the drop to budget constraints, level enrollments and fewer retirements and long-term leaves.

Baltimore-area districts start classes Aug. 29. To ensure that staff is in place before then, school headhunters started recruiting early, even traveling to countries such as the Philippines.

Baltimore County offered cash incentives to teachers who take positions at schools with a larger proportion of low-income children. Howard County handed out $1,000 signing bonuses to the first 125 candidates hired to teach in critical-needs areas.

Miss Mascaro said candidates expect more.

“Absolutely, they know salaries,” said Miss Mascaro, who traveled to job fairs held as far away as Texas. “They’ll come to your booth and ask you about incentives and signing bonuses, unlike three years ago. They ask about new-teacher support and mentoring programs.

“They are a savvy group,” she said.

Across the state, school districts are having a difficult time finding teachers in special education, math, science and foreign language. Those subjects are deemed areas of critical need by state and local education officials. Teaching candidates in such fields are very marketable, recruiters say.

One candidate certified in math submitted his application this month for a job in Howard County — less than two months before classes begin.

“He wasn’t worried,” Miss Mascaro recalled. “He’ll have six to seven job offers wherever he goes. There’s a lot of competition.”

She added, “For the critical-needs areas, it’s absolutely a teacher’s market.”

This year, schools also are dealing with a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act that all teachers of English, reading, math, science, social studies, foreign language, economics, geography and arts be “highly qualified” by the end of the next school year.

Otherwise, schools risk losing federal funds.

In Maryland, recent data show that the percentage of classes not taught by “highly qualified” teachers has declined to 24.7 this year, from 33.1 in 2004. Suburban school systems tend to fare better than urban systems.

“We’re gratified to be moving in the right direction,” Mr. Smeallie said. “Clearly, we have challenges around the state to meet that target.”

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