Tight teacher job market squeezing some Buffalo-area school districts | Education

Buffalo-area school districts trying to hire teachers encounter something they’ve never seen before in the public sector: job applicants looking for the highest bidder.

“I’ve never seen candidates play against each other like they do now,” Starpoint Central Superintendent Sean M. Croft said. “People come in and say, ‘I’ve been offered this in this school district, what can you do for me?’ ”

There are always a few last-minute hires in August, but it’s a little different this year. Starpoint postponed hiring an additional science teacher because it couldn’t find the right candidate and may not be able to fill a tech position. Clarence Central hopes to hire a business professor before school starts. And Buffalo Public Schools has 138 teaching positions to fill.

The market for teachers across the country is tighter than it has been in years, especially in subjects such as science, special education and foreign languages.

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Some school districts in rural Texas have moved to four-day weeks as an incentive to attract and retain teachers. Florida issues temporary certificates to veterans who have 60 college credit hours to teach for up to five years while they pursue a bachelor’s degree to get more teachers into the classroom.

Gone are the days of receiving hundreds of applications for a single opening, so some local districts are trying different ways to attract quality applicants: advertise more and sometimes offer to start applicants at a higher level of pay or offer signing bonuses.

“We have a little wiggle room,” Croft said.

And while teachers have been known to switch schools, Croft said there’s a new wrinkle: Teachers are courted by other districts.

“We fired a technology teacher because he was recruited by another district,” he said, adding that the teacher had received emails from teachers in the other district praising of their school.

He doesn’t think he can hire a technology teacher by September. Starpoint also planned to add a science teacher this year due to increased enrollment, but couldn’t find the right hire.

“We’ve decided to push back until next year and rework the schedule to give existing teachers additional lessons,” Croft said.

The market for teachers across the country is tighter than it has been in years, especially in subjects such as science, special education and foreign languages.

Buffalo News file photo

While smaller districts may still have a few vacancies, Buffalo Public Schools has 138 teaching positions.

But that’s not unusual. That’s about the same number of openings the district had at this time over the past five years, according to Tami Hollie-McGee, chief human resources officer. She said she expects that number to drop, as the transfer process wrapped up Friday and the district can begin expanding offers to outside candidates.

She said some teachers have recently announced to the district that they are leaving, either to move out of the area or to work in other districts that may be closer to where they live.

“My staff are reaching out to them to see if there’s anything we can do to keep them from parting with us,” Hollie-McGee said.

Not all districts had problems. It’s been a busy summer for hiring at West Seneca, but the faculty are ready, although hiring in other areas, like transportation, is a bit difficult.

“If we had a physical opening, I might freak out,” West Seneca assistant superintendent Jonathan Cervoni said.

West Seneca has developed partnerships with local college teacher preparation programs for students to be substitutes. The district has also created prime building substitutes who work every day with tasks that may vary from day to day.

“We really get to know them, they get to know us,” Superintendent Matthew Bystrak said.

While the shortage may not have reached a crisis point in Western New York, districts are seeing far fewer applicants for the openings they have. Several years ago, it would not have been unusual for Clarence Central to have 30 applications for a music teacher position.

“We installed one not too long ago, and it was more like 12,” said Robert Michel, assistant superintendent of human resources.

It really depends on the specialty, he says.

“For a basic position, we’re usually pretty sure we’ll get really good quality applications,” Michel said.

But there are few applicants for special education, home consumer sciences, business, chemistry, physics and even Spanish, he said.

“I never thought we would struggle to fill the Spanish positions,” Michel said. “It’s a statewide problem.”

The district was considering discontinuing its middle school family consumer science program because it was having trouble hiring a teacher, but a second position yielded a successful candidate.

When they can’t fill an opening, Buffalo Public Schools, like other schools, ask other teachers to take a class during their planning period for extra pay, Hollie-McGee said.

The teacher shortage has been looming for years. According to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, 34% of teachers in 2021 were 50 or older. State officials estimate that New York will need 180,000 new teachers over the next decade.

“We knew our workforce was aging. Unfortunately, just as we started to see the shortage looming, the pandemic hit,” said Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers.

Added to the demographics is the stress of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the culture wars creeping into schools. While teachers don’t seem to be leaving the profession in droves at the moment, some have noticed a slight increase in retirements.

“I think part of that is the stress of the last two and a half years. It’s definitely impacting individuals,” Croft said. “People who are just at the end of their careers may come out sooner than they expected.”

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called on states, school districts and higher education institutions to form partnerships to support a strong pipeline of teachers. He also urged them to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to address teacher shortages and increase the number of teacher candidates ready to enter the teaching profession.

Many districts have hired more teachers over the past year with federal funds, which has further narrowed the pool of applicants.

Buffalo is one of many districts working with local colleges with teacher preparation programs.

“We engaged with local colleges for about three years to recruit teachers through the teacher residency program,” Hollie-McGee said.

Under the Teachers’ Residency Program, students who aspire to become teachers work in the classroom four days a week and spend one day taking classes in the classroom.

New York State United Teachers has created a “Look at Teaching” program to encourage students to view teaching as a profession.

Schools could also think about improving working conditions to attract and retain teachers, DiBrango said.

“I think now that we’re seeing this shortage, you’ll see teachers looking for districts that have great labor-management relations or great work environments where maybe they have flexible hours or better hours,” said she declared.

Finding a teaching job is still about being in the right place at the right time, with the right certification.

Michel, from Clarence, recently met a substitute candidate with a degree in biochemistry who was planning to get certified to teach biology.

“I said pick up chemistry, chemistry teachers are very expensive,” he said.

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