As the nationwide teacher shortage worsens—particularly in the areas of math, science, foreign languages, and special education—school districts are devising ever more creative ways of luring teachers into their classrooms. From whopping signing bonuses to handy gift certificates, districts are angling to cope with the estimated 2 million openings they’ll face in the coming decade. Not all recent recruiting efforts have been entirely successful, though. In 1998, for example, Massachusetts handed out $20,000 incentives (paid in three installments) mostly to career- changers and recent college grads, but 20 percent of these “bonus babies” cashed their first payment and skipped out after just one year. Still, schools keep searching for the perfect bait, in addition to casting their nets wider and keeping them out there longer. As Antonio Garcia, recruitment director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, explains, “We recruit every day of the year; it’s no longer a season.”
Following are a few fairly representative teacher incentives on offer from districts across the country.
Community: The Cleveland School District, Mississippi. Cleveland, population 25,000, is a small town 110 miles southwest of Memphis in the Mississippi Delta. The district employs approximately 240 teachers for its 3,800 students.
Shortage: Although the state officially deemed Cleveland one of 43 “critical shortage areas,” the district’s openings for the 2001-02 school year is low by Mississippi standards. Superintendent Reggie Barnes anticipates filling 16 empty slots (7 percent of the teacher workforce) due to educators retiring and the replacement of long-term substitutes.
Incentive: House Bill 609, also known as the Mississippi Teacher Shortage Act of 1998, pays up to four years of tuition, room, board, and other expenses for undergraduate education majors at any public college or university in the state. (Students can also apply the scholarship to private colleges in Mississippi and make up the tuition difference themselves.) Those funded for four years agree to teach for at least three years in a critical shortage area after graduation; other scholarship students must teach for as many years as their award covers tuition.
Result: Most teachers hired in Cleveland through the legislation have continued to work in local schools after fulfilling their obligations. However, officials admit that this may have something to do with the fact that Cleveland, a college town, offers more than ample social opportunities for young teachers.
Community: The Los Angeles Unified School District, California. In the fall of 1998, LAUSD employed 36,170 teachers for more than 722,000 students in 790 schools.
Shortage: Currently, the district is filling the 4,000 spots (that’s 11 percent of its classroom positions) open for the 2001-02 year. It needs 500 special education teachers alone.
Incentive: California already has set in place initiatives-raising the minimum beginning teacher salary to $34,000, offering one-time merit awards of up to $30,000 for National Board-certified teachers, and providing a personal income tax credit worth between $250 and $1,500 per year. On top of all that, the Los Angeles district helps teachers get home loans, find real estate agents, and generally figure out the homeownership process through the Los Angeles Teachers Mortgage Assistance Program.
Result: In the past, potential recruits have ranked L.A. traffic congestion and terrible commutes among the biggest deterrents to coming on board. “We tell them there’s a lot of affordable housing adjacent to their jobs,” says Garcia. “They’re pleasantly surprised.”
Community: Yonkers Public Schools, New York. Yonkers, a city of 190,000 just north of the Bronx in southwest Westchester County, currently has 2,018 teachers on the payroll for its 25,000-plus students.
Shortage: YPS is awaiting census results to determine the size of next year’s district, but it will most likely need a few hundred teachers; last year, 504 people, or 25 percent of its educators, were new hires. One of the state’s “big five” school districts, Yonkers has more classrooms to fill than do many other areas, and it must compete with the higher teacher salaries of more affluent, surrounding districts-20 miles north, for example, lies Chappaqua, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s tony new hometown.
Incentive: Teachers of Tomorrow, established under Chapter 62 of New York’s 2000 education laws, provides $25 million to school districts statewide for recruitment, retention, and certification programs. Yonkers Public Schools uses the funds for one-time signing bonuses of $3,400 plus $700 per-semester stipends for those working toward teacher certification. The money also supports the district’s free training workshops-in fact, teachers are often paid $34 an hour to attend-on current topics in education, such as mentoring, child abuse, and literacy.
Result: Officials say the commitment to professional development seems to be an even bigger lure than the signing bonuses. “We do a lot of training in our district,” says one personnel employee. In a competitive recruitment environment, she adds, “it gives [teachers] a nudge in our direction.”
Community: Johnstown County Schools, North Carolina. A rural area about 30 miles southeast of Raleigh, the 21,000-student district has a teaching corps of 1,525.
Shortage: Officials couldn’t provide a specific figure of current job openings, but the district typically hires around 300 teachers (or 20 percent of the teaching ranks) per year.
Incentive: Although North Carolina passed legislation that raised salaries for teachers who earn National Board certification, increased starting salaries to $25,000, and created an alternative-licensure program for out-of-state recruits, Johnstown County has taken additional steps. Especially strapped for math, science, and special education teachers, the district is offering signing bonuses of up to $3,000 to attract new teachers. In recent years, the county also compiled coupon booklets to welcome new hires, featuring, among other things, free ring cleanings from a jeweler, drugstore discounts, and reduced-price newspaper subscriptions.
Result: The booklets, which took only a few days to create, were clearly not the deciding factor in any teacher’s move, says a county human resources director. But they were appreciated by those getting settled into the community—especially bone-tired new educators who might enjoy the free spinal exam from a local chiropractor included in the booklet.