Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2000

Growing DeSoto district works to keep teaching jobs filled

March 2, 2000

It's a simple case of supply and demand.

As the demand for public school teachers has increased in the United States, the supply of college graduates entering the profession has declined. In the battle for what remains, the DeSoto School District is doing better than most.

While many districts are offering everything from signing bonuses to car leases in an effort to find new teachers, the DeSoto school district continues to attract enough quality applicants to fill its classrooms.

Bill Gilhaus, the district's director of human resources, said the nationwide teacher shortage has not yet hit the DeSoto School District. With two new schools scheduled to open next year, he said the district has a large number of qualified applicants from which to choose.

The addition of a new elementary and a new high school in the DeSoto district will create 20 to 30 new teaching positions, Gilhaus said. When you add that to the number of retirements and transfers in the district, Gilhaus said district officials will need to hire about 50 new teachers next year. He doesn't expect that to be a problem.

"Fortunately we have a lot of applicants," he said. "Last year we had about 1,700 applicants so we can still be selective."

As for why DeSoto has not felt the affects of the national trend, Gilhaus said there are many reasons.

For starters, he said, the area's recent growth has actually helped the situation. The district's new, state-of-the-art facilities appeal to teaching graduates and even veteran teachers from other districts.

"We will have four elementary schools in the fall, three of which have been built in the last five years," Gilhaus said. "One of our two middle schools and both of our high schools are also less than 5 years old."

In addition to the new buildings, Gilhaus said, teachers in the district have access to the tools and technology they need to do their jobs.

"There's a computer and a telephone on every teacher's desk," he said. "And all of their computers are linked to the Internet."

Gilhaus said those are things many other districts just can't offer.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about the district is the reputation of its student body, he said.

"We have very few discipline problems and the (standardized) test scores for the district are very good," he said.

District Superintendent Marilyn Layman said she was well aware of the teacher shortage and decided to get an quick jump on filling the new positions.

"We started early this year. We had a recruiting fair which helped us with the hard-to-fill positions," she said.

Gilhaus said the recruiting fair attracted 117 teachers, 75 percent of whom were veteran teachers from other districts.

But even with all the district has going for it, DeSoto is not immune to the problem. Gilhaus said he does have a hard time finding teachers for certain subjects such as technology, computers, foreign languages, high-level mathematics, physics, chemistry and special education. With an increasing student base and a decreasing supply of teaching graduates, Gilhaus said those problems are not going away.

Layman agreed and explained that competition for teachers doesn't come only from other school districts.

"A lot of schools are losing teachers to businesses that can pay them a lot more money," she said. "We lost two to Sprint last year. What can you do when large companies can offer $80,000 a year?"

Gilhaus got a taste of just how bad things could get recently when he attended an educational conference in Wichita. During the conference, he and his fellow educators were faced with some grim statistics.

According to the data he received, the number of Kansas college graduates with a degree in teaching has decreased from 2,600 in 1975 to 1,250 in 1998. It is also projected that 40 percent of all current public school teachers will retire or leave education by 2004, he said. Further, Gilhaus learned that 50,000 special education positions nationwide are vacant or filled by a teacher not certified in special education.

Although the DeSoto school district is not feeling the full affect of the problem yet, Gilhaus said you don't need to look any further than Texas to see how bad things could get if current trends continue.

"Some districts in Texas are offering incentives like a $3,000 signing bonus or a bonus for a down payment on a house," he said. "The average starting salary for teachers in Texas last year was $32,000, about $5,000 to $7,000 higher than Kansas was last year."

Because the root of the problem seems to be financial, Gilhaus said, the DeSoto district would have to stay aggressive to assure a similar problem doesn't develop here.

"We will have to be more competitive," he said. "We will have to be more creative in how we attract new teachers and that will have to be financial."

As for signing bonuses, Layman said the district simply could not afford them. For now, the district will negotiate with the school board on the issue of teacher salaries. DeSoto currently offers new teachers a starting salary of $24,085 a year, very close to the state average. Gilhaus said he expects that number to go up slightly next year.

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