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Shortage of Teachers Forces Major Recruiting Drive in L.A.

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The nation's second-largest school district is facing a teacher shortage that neither advertising nor extensive media coverage has fully alleviated thus far.

The huge Los Angeles Unified School District covers 710 square miles and educates more than 540,000 students. It employs 23,700 full-time teachers (plus 1,800 substitutes per day) and pays them an average of $24,650 per year.

For a variety of reasons, school officials anticipated a shortage of 150 full-time and 1,000 substitute teachers for the spring semester, according to Jerry F. Halverson, associate superintendent for business and personnel services. He attributes the shortage to a rising teacher-absentee rate that increases the demand for substitutes, teacher retirements, and the loss of many teachers (particularly mathematics and science teachers) to higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

Jack A. Raith, director of personnel research in the system, said that although there has been a shortage in certain subjects like mathematics and science for some time, "in general, there had been a surplus of teachers for at least the last eight years."

The district advertised for teachers in three local papers, and extensive local media coverage of the problem followed, but response to the drive was "very low," Mr. Halverson said. LaVerne K. Ricchio, director of teacher selection in the district, reported that "so far, we may have picked up about 100 teachers, including both full-time and substitute."

"We have a serious and continuing problem in physics and chemistry, and a worse problem in mathematics," he added. "We have lesser problems in shop, welding, and other mechanical trades."

The district has also encountered difficulty in locating competent bilingual-education instructors--particularly in Armenian, Russian, Vietnamese, Laotian, Korean, and Cambodian, according to district officials. Eighty-three of the 91 languages served by the U.S. Department of Education are spoken in the district, they point out.

Mr. Halverson said the district will continue its ongoing recruitment strategies, which include offering pay incentives for "fully competent bilingual teachers."

"There's not much else we can do," he added.

Other parts of the country report similar teacher shortages.

New York City--the nation's largest school district, with 55,000 teachers and an estimated 924,000 students--is also facing teacher shortages. Last May, the board of education launched a major recruitment drive even though pupil enrollments were declining.

Like Los Angeles, New York sought teachers in mathematics, science, industrial arts, English, and handicapped and bilingual education, and the board paid the tuition costs so that several hundred prospective candidates could earn the academic credits they needed to receive teaching certificates.

But that kind of special effort to recruit teachers for New York has ended, according to Audrey Hayes, associate director in the office of staff recruitment. And since then, she said, recruitment activities have been "more ongoing, especially involving recruitment of graduates of local colleges and universities." The board has added two staff members to handle contact with these teaching candidates.

Ms. Hayes said the need for teachers this year is greatest in mathematics, science, vocational and business education, and English.

Texas education officials are expecting teacher shortages in both large and small cities as the state's population continues to grow. Projections vary, but one study predicts an additional 500,000 elementary and secondary students will swell Texas schools during this decade.

"We need probably 300 math and science teachers statewide right now," said Deputy Commissioner of Education Thomas E. Anderson Jr. He noted that there is an annual 5-percent attrition rate from the teaching force, and that the state's teacher-preparation institutions are currently only graduating enough teachers to fill that gap.

"We're not getting them in some of the critical areas like math, science, bilingual education, and industrial arts," he added. As a result, a number of the largest Texas districts are going out of state to recruit.

The state also has a "deployment problem" that results in shortages in isolated rural areas. "Some people just don't want to go to rural areas to teach," he said.

The reluctance of teachers to relocate in underpopulated areas is also affecting another neighboring state. Speaking before a committee of their state legislature recently, Oklahoma education officials told lawmakers that the state--which has only two major metropolitan areas--will face a severe shortage of teachers for its schools in the near future. This is true especially in areas such as rural western Oklahoma, they said, where the average teacher salary ($16,781 per year) pales in comparison to high-paying jobs offered by the oil and gas industries.

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