- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A southeast Texas school district is scrambling to prepare for the upcoming school year after the Eagle Ford Shale oil boom led to staffing problems.

The Alice Independent School District still has to fill 21 teaching positions before classes start in about two weeks, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (https://bit.ly/1pNHQhv ) reported.

A survey conducted in April by the Education Service Center for Region 2 found that schools in Pettus, Three Rivers and Freer are experiencing similar staffing problems. The schools have lost qualified staff because of wage competition and housing shortages sparked by the nearby oil boom.

School officials said the oil boom in Corpus Christi has lured employees into the lucrative business and worsened existing housing shortages.

Ralph Gomez, president of the Alice-Jim Wells County Economic Development Corp., said Alice has struggled with its housing shortage for years, but it has been exacerbated by the oil boom.

“The EDC’s focus right now is on housing,” Gomez said. “We can’t grow our labor force without that. We have no place to put them.”

A housing study conducted last year by the Economic Development Corp. found that nearly 950 housing units, including 290 single-family homes and 650 apartments, need to be built in Alice within the next five years to address the problem.

“One of the biggest issues is we don’t have any housing around here because of the oil boom,” said Grace Everett, superintendent of the Alice Independent School District.

She said many people are tired of commuting 45 miles or so from Corpus Christi.

“It’s hard on them, their vehicles, and it’s hard on their checkbooks,” Everett said. “Even if they want to stay here, it makes better sense for them to get a job down the road in Corpus Christi.”

Some school districts have tried to increase salaries to encourage staff members who are tempted to switch to oil field work. Emily Barrera, human resources director for Region 2, said that method takes a toll on the school’s budget.

“The thing is, we’re competing with the Eagle Ford Shale,” Barrera said. “So unless a district is offering a competitive salary or benefits, they’re in real tough spot (in attracting) those educators or bus drivers.”

Everett said she is still hopeful that Alice will get the qualified teachers it needs and is considering other methods, such as alternative certification, to do so.

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com

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