State concerned about replacing aging teachers
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
A statewide teachers shortage seems to have eased for the start of the school year, even as the Department of Education tries to fill a remaining 136 vacancies, the fewest in several years.
Last year around this time, the department announced that it had come up short by more than 400 teachers up sharply from 164 the year before. An appeal was made to mid-career business people to consider a switch to teaching.
Now the priority is on finding already certified teachers to fill the estimated 1,500 positions that come open every year.
But while education officials say they have had some success by refining their recruiting methods and taking a more analytical approach to the problem, they are not patting themselves on the back for whittling down the number of vacancies.
Instead, they are keeping one eye on an aging work force that could bring a number of retirements over the next few years and the other on the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom in the country by the 2005-2006 school year.
An estimated 40 percent of Hawai'i teachers are 48 years old or older, according to the most recent Superintendent's Report, an annual compilation of state education data.
With teachers eligible for full retirement at age 55 with 30 years of service typical for teachers who entered the system after finishing college the department expects much higher than normal turnover for the next five to 10 years.
"Retirements for teachers or administrators is always a concern," said DOE personnel specialist Bruce Shimomoto. "It's a nationwide concern; it's not just in Hawai'i. We all have teachers who are at or near retirement age and everyone has a concern about the availability of qualified replacements. No Child Left Behind adds a new element."
Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the 100-plus vacancies is still too many, but said the department has fine-tuned its recruiting methods, is doing a better job of tracking vacancies and has crunched the numbers to see which out-of-state colleges and universities have yielded the most teachers for the district.
"We're monitoring data from the year before and looking at the places where we were the most successful in terms of recruiting," Hamamoto said. "We're looking at it like a business: Where did we get the best returns?"
The state employs about 13,000 teachers, and any vacancies leave substitutes and part-timers to fill the classrooms.
During the spring, recruiters typically interview as many as 200 college seniors in one day and visit teacher job fairs in states such as California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
In a break from the past, the DOE can now offer qualified graduates a job on the spot, Hamamoto said.
The DOE has also worked with the University of Hawai'i to encourage people to return to school for teaching certificates or master's degrees in education. A recent federal grant program with Gonzaga University brought professors from that school to Hawai'i to offer weekend and night master's degree programs.
The department also has increased its moving-expense bonus, which is given primarily to teachers in shortage areas such as special education, and has worked to develop meet-and-greet programs that help introduce new teachers to the island, find them places to live and introduce them to their campuses.
"They're not big glitzy things, but it's little details that can make a difference," Hamamoto said.
Hawai'i educators have faced a nationwide teachers shortage at the same time the number of education graduates from the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, the biggest source of DOE teachers, has declined.
UH has graduated fewer education majors the past several years as its budget has been hit by the state's financial woes. While the school's budget has been spared from campuswide cuts, it hasn't grown, either. There has been a 10.5 percent decrease in graduates since 1995. The college is down 18 professors from 1995, meaning that fewer graduates can move through the system.
"We actually turned students away this year," said Randy Hitz, dean of the College of Education.
The Hawai'i teacher shortage is compounded by other states recruiting from UH's pool of ethnically and racially diverse graduates to relieve their own shortages. Some other school districts are in better financial shape and can offer teachers moving expenses, bonuses and student-loan forgiveness as recruiting tools.
"Other districts are doing everything they can to offer teachers great conditions to keep them there," said Joan Husted, executive director of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association. "We offer Hawai'i and think that ought to be enough."
Despite the increasing demand for teachers, the district's total recruiting budget has remained at $100,000 per year.
Husted said the district must do something to reverse one of its costliest trends: 60 percent of all people hired from the Mainland leave Hawai'i within their first three years. "Some of the reasons are poor working conditions and the high cost of living," Husted said. "Since Sept. 11 people are talking about geographic isolation and loneliness. People don't want to be far away from their families."
Despite the teacher shortage, the DOE considers its administrator shortage even more severe.
The department has not been able to fill 23 vice principal positions of the 143 positions that came open this summer. It was the highest number of such vacancies the department has ever faced.
Also, 19 of 42 principal positions had not been filled with permanent hires as of mid-August, the latest date for which numbers were available.
Instead, people are temporarily filling those positions.
Nearly 70 percent of all school-level administrators are older than 51. Less than 2 percent are younger than 40. More than half are already eligible or will become eligible for retirement in less than five years.
And if the DOE fills an administrative spot with a teacher, that creates another vacancy in the classroom.
Reach Jennifer Hiller at email@example.com or 525-8084.