By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS – School officials throughout the state are desperately rethinking their hiring practices and compromising on quality as they attempt to fill hundreds of teaching vacancies this year, and forestall the record number expected next year.
The State Department of Education released figures recently that show more than 10,350 teachers will be needed next year – 1,600 more than this year. Given increasing levels of student enrollment it seems the shortage will exist for some time.
Yet many Maryland school districts are still making an exhaustive effort to hire teachers for this year.
Prince George’s County still has 130 vacancies, Montgomery County has more than 30, Baltimore City has 31 and Anne Arundel County still has 25 openings.
To get teachers into classrooms, school districts across the state have filled positions with permanent substitutes – whose qualifications are lower than full-time teachers – and provisionally certified teachers.
“People have to stand in rooms, but (school officials) have to wrestle with the fact that they want the best people,” said Neil H. Greenberger, spokesman for the State Department of Education.
Of the teachers hired by Prince George’s County last year, 17.3 percent had provisional certificates. In Montgomery County, the percentage was 2.5. The state average was 7.1 with Baltimore having the highest rate at 21.1 percent.
“Unlike having a (teacher) shortage followed by a surplus, that (kind of natural end to the shortage) will not happen,” said Ron A. Peiffer, assistant state superintendent. “We will have a strong demand for teachers for some time because student enrollments will remain strong. We are taking the action of opening up alternative routes to the teacher profession.”
School districts already are using every method at their disposal to bring in more teachers. They have:
– Increased the salaries of teachers and offered signing bonuses.
– Hired provisional teachers who are not fully certified.
– Used substitute teachers – who sometimes may only be high school graduates – for extended periods of time.
– Looked to other states for teachers – such as Pennsylvania, which has more candidates graduating from college each year than it has vacancies.
– Swiped teachers who already had given a verbal agreement or, in some cases, signed a contract with another county.
These measures can provide only limited assistance because the number of new teachers is not large enough to accommodate the demand. The 22 colleges that offer teaching programs in Maryland graduated only 1,585 teachers this year.
“We are concerned,” said Pat Young, director of personnel and administrative services for Calvert County Public Schools. “We have been fortunate to see more applicants in Calvert County. The biggest impact (of the shortage) will be in that we are going to move faster earlier. We will offer (teacher) contracts in November and December.”
The state has created legislation that gives qualified applicants signing bonuses, assists jurisdictions in providing salary increases and provides scholarship money for students in Maryland colleges committed to teaching.
Elementary and special education teachers are in the greatest demand statewide, but other core subjects such as mathematics, science and computer science also have vacancies.
Paying more money has been the primary solution to attracting teachers.
Several teachers transferred from Prince George’s County to Montgomery County at the beginning of the year because labor negotiations left salaries in Prince George’s County unknown.
The salary for a certified teacher holding a bachelor’s degree in Montgomery County is $42,547, while the salary in Prince George’s County is $42,148.
Howard County offers signing bonuses of $1,000 for teachers willing to work in the most needed subjects. This year the county gave 100 bonuses and expects to give another 50 next year. Other jurisdictions are pondering if bonuses are the best way to fill positions.
“Wealthy systems can pay an increase in salary,” said Philip Burke, chairman of the Department of Special Education at the University of Maryland, thus implying the opposite – that poorer school districts will go begging for instructors.
Prince George’s County also offers added money for certified teachers willing to relocate to its neediest schools. Other officials believe that spending money will not help the shortage.
“We just rob from each other by using bonuses,” said Stephen Guthrie, supervisor of human resources for Carroll County Public Schools.
Officials in Carroll County said teachers in the past have signed contracts and then departed after being enticed to work in another higher-paying jurisdiction.
The scramble to fill classrooms with teachers has also created a new recruiting environment that uses the Internet and offers more financial incentives.
“We are having more (recruiting) trips,” said Guthrie. “We have a 6 percent return on recruiting.” Recruiting out of state is difficult because none of the candidates are familiar with the system and even if you get someone it does not mean they will stay more than one year, he said.
Meanwhile, school districts are broadening their search horizons. Montgomery County recruits teachers from all over the world, Prince George’s County recruits in a yearlong process, while Howard County recruits nationwide.