Teacher Shortage Highlighted in Ventura County Star

  • 11/8/2015 9:02:00 AM

The urgent need for more people to enter the teaching profession is the focus of this article which appeared on the front page of the Sunday, November 8 edition of the Ventura County Star. 


Having laid off teachers, school districts now face a shortage

BY: Jean Cowden Moore

After laying off thousands of teachers during the recession, California now doesn’t have enough of them — a trend shared by several local school districts.

That means some districts started the school year without teachers for every classroom, forcing them to turn to long-term substitutes — “not a desirable situation,” said Stan Mantooth, Ventura County superintendent of schools.

“They’ve had to scramble to find people to fill the positions,” Mantooth said. “My concern is having an adequate pool of quality teachers.”

The Oxnard Union High School District, which is growing, anticipates it will need to hire 90 school teachers for next school year, said Rocky Valles, assistant superintendent of human resources. In the past, the district has found most of the teachers it needed locally. But this year, Valles will be looking outside the county, so he’s updating his recruiting plan and materials. And he’s moving a job fair from April to March to get a head start on competing districts.

“We’ll have to attend a lot more teacher recruitment fairs than we have in the past, not just at local universities,” Valles said. “We may have to go down to San Diego or up to San Jose.”

Other districts, such as Ojai Unified, where enrollment is declining, are less affected by the shortage. Ojai isn’t having trouble finding elementary school teachers, said Superintendent Hank Bangser. But they’re still dealing with ongoing shortages of science, math and special education teachers. That’s partly because teachers who had been working in special education are moving into traditional classrooms, now that positions are opening up. And math and science majors can find more lucrative jobs than teaching.

“If you have a bent toward math or science, the opportunities out there in the corporate world and related fields are, quite frankly, broader, more enticing and have higher compensation levels,” Bangser said.

The issue goes beyond simply having enough teacher candidates, said Jason Peplinski, superintendent of the Simi Valley Unified School District, where enrollment is bouncing back after declining for years. It’s finding strong candidates, especially in fields like computer science where there aren’t enough of them.

Like Ojai, Simi Valley gets plenty of applicants for elementary school teachers, Peplinski said. So they can choose the strongest candidates. But difficulties can arise when districts hoping to hire a science teacher, for example, get only five applicants.

“It’s not just finding someone with a credential, it’s finding someone excellent with a credential,” Peplinski said. “Do you have the right people applying?”

The shortage started when fewer people enrolled in teacher credential programs during the recession, many of them fearing they wouldn’t get a job after they graduated.

Overall, California teaching programs saw enrollment drop by about half over the past five years. California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks had a similar drop, falling by nearly half over seven years between 2006 and 2013 — from 345 to 183 students. Since then enrollment has stabilized, but the drop means fewer beginning teachers entered the pipeline recently.

“People weren’t going into teaching when we had the recession,” Valles said.

Maricela Vargas, now teaching kindergarten at Emilie Ritchen School in Oxnard, was earning her credential at CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo during the recession.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Why are so many teachers being laid off?’ ” Vargas said. “But I decided this is what I want to do. I’m going to continue my education.”

At the same time that enrollment in teacher programs was dropping, many districts were offering older teachers retirement incentives, trimming their expenses but also contributing to the current shortage.

Other factors may have scared off potential teachers, too. Some politicians want tenure to be eliminated, saying it allows incompetent teachers to stay in the classroom. Others have called for teachers to be evaluated based on students’ test scores.

And pay can be an issue in areas that are expensive to live, like Ventura County.

“You’ve made this huge investment in college, you’ve got debt, and then you take a job that pays $35,000,” Mantooth said. “It’s hard to pay rent on an apartment, pay your loans and have a life.”

On the other hand, the county is at something of an advantage precisely because it’s a desirable place to live, Peplinski said.

“It’s more expensive to live in Ventura County, but the schools are also more desirable,” Peplinski said. “The candidates themselves are going to have their pick.”

Teacher shortages are nothing new, tending to come and go in cycles. Part of the blame lies with the way the state funds schools, Mantooth said. Schools get a guaranteed percentage of the state’s overall pie, so when the economy is thriving, there’s enough money to hire new teachers. But when a recession hits, districts have to lay those new teachers off, and fewer people enter the profession.

The governor’s rainy day fund, which puts money into a reserve, will help, Mantooth said.

“It’s not a question of if — it’s a question of when — we’ll have the next recession,” he said. “If we have a robust reserve, we may not have to cut as draconically.”

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