Education update: As teacher supply shrinks, Re-1 must compete

Thursday, June 22, 2017 3:01 PM
Lori Haukeness

Nationwide, education programs are not graduating enough new teachers to fill the vacancies created by teachers who are retiring or leaving the profession for other reasons. That imbalance has created a shortage of qualified teachers across the country. One result has been intense competition for teachers by school districts vying to offer contracts.

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 must compete with other districts nationwide for qualified teachers. The consequences of the teacher shortage are especially apparent this time of year, when districts are offering contracts for unfilled positions.

For Re-1, the shortage is acute:

Teachers are leaving for other districts because of higher pay and other incentivesFew teachers are applying to replace themThe district has unfilled faculty positions for which it has no qualified applicantsTwenty-nine teachers resigned or retired after the 2016-2017 school year, and the district currently has nine unfilled positions. Teachers report for work on Aug. 17.

One reason Re-1 is losing teachers and struggling to attract new ones is that the district’s pay scale lags behind other districts’. Colorado teacher salaries are low compared to those in many other states, and Re-1’s salary schedule is lower both than the state’s average and than wages in many nearby districts.

Colorado also ranks last in teacher wage competitiveness which compares teachers to non-teachers with similar education, experience and hours worked. When adjusted for inflation, Colorado teachers’ buying power has declined about $3,700, or 6.8 percent, since the 1999-2000 school year, while the U.S. average declined $770, or 1.8 percent. That’s not fair for our teachers and it hampers our ability to attract and retain the highly qualified and experienced teachers we need.

Colorado also ranks poorly in other comparative indicators – per-pupil spending, classroom size and the number of novice teachers in the classroom.

It is true that Southwest Colorado offers professionals an attractive quality of life. That is an asset in recruiting, but lifestyle amenities don’t pay the bills.

The Colorado Legislature has approved funding for a study of the teacher shortage and possible solutions. The Legislature also passed House Bill 17-1176, which enables retired teachers to teach full time in rural districts without a reduction in their PERA (Public Employee Retirement Association) benefits. While that is a welcome change that may help draw experienced teachers back to the classroom, it is not a long-term solution.

Across the country, states and school districts are changing their requirements so that non-certified teachers can fill classroom positions for a limited period before they are required to achieve certification. Mancos School District Re-6 is utilizing this strategy.

Districts also are approving significant salary increases for beginning teachers, an increase that carries through their salary schedules, in order to fill vacant positions. Some Utah districts are offering $45,000-$50,000 salaries for starting teachers. Re-1 is competing with those districts, and many others, for qualified teachers.

As the Re-1 school board considers how to attract and retain teachers in the current shortage, and in the face of a possible larger shortage, these are just some of the factors board members must consider.

Students deserve a quality education. In order to achieve this, highly qualified and experienced teachers are necessary to provide the level of teaching and student learning essential to preparing students to pursue their future goals.

Lori Haukeness is superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1. Reach her at Education Update appears in The Journal on the fourth Friday of the month.