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Hawaii Scurries To Fill 8 Percent of Teaching Posts

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Imagine this: swaying palm trees, sandy beaches, and fruity drinks served in hollowed-out pineapples.

Such visions of tropical paradise may be enough to draw any newly minted teacher to Hawaii. But a window of opportunity for rookie teachers there is closing fast.

State education officials are trying to fill about 900 teaching slots for next fall to replace veteran educators who have taken the state up on an early-retirement-incentive program.

About 8 percent of the state's 11,500 teachers have accepted the retirement offer--a one-time opportunity afforded by 1994 legislation to state employees with at least 25 years' service.

Normally, between 150 and 200 teachers retire each spring, said Donald R. Nugent, the assistant superintendent for personnel services at the Hawaii education department, which administers the single, statewide school district.

But the state is not having too many problems filling the extra openings, Mr. Nugent said. The main reason, he said, is strategy.

While state recruiters often leave the islands to recruit teachers in perennial shortage areas--mathematics, science, industrial arts, and special education--the early-retirement program has made state officials intensify their recruitment efforts in those areas.

Beginning in February, state recruiters took off for the colder climes of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Washington State, and Oregon, among other places on the U.S. mainland.

Often, in interviews with the more than 600 candidates they saw on the mainland, recruiters casually mentioned that back in Honolulu, the mercury was pushing 85 degrees. "We're hustling," Mr. Nugent said.

High Cost of Living

But spots for elementary school teachers and in other areas can probably be filled from the current applicant pool, which includes about 550 new teachers expected to graduate from Hawaii's public and private universities, Mr. Nugent said.

Though Hawaii's sandy shores attract applicants from the mainland in droves, many come down with sticker-shock when they discover the state's high cost of living, said Danielle Lum, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers' union.

The average starting teacher salary in Hawaii is about $25,000.

"People have a perception of Hawaii as being all about surfing and waves and all that, but it's more to it than that," Mr. Nugent said. "You've still got to make a living and show up for work."

Under the retirement plan, teachers and other school employees have two years' service added to their records, which allows them to draw more in retirement benefits. State officials are counting on some $8 million in savings from hiring lower-paid, less experienced teachers as replacements.

Nationally, observers said the job market for new teachers is looking up in several areas.

Hiring hot spots include many Southwestern states, such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, said Charles A. Marshall, the executive director of the Association for School, College, and University Staffing in Evanston, Ill.

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