A+ News: D-11 hit with teacher shortage, finds new ways to attract educators

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A shortage of teachers across the country hits home.

Colorado Springs School District 11 is now trying new ways to attract educators.

According to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2014, teacher education enrollment dropped from more than 690,000 to 450,000 – a 35 percent reduction.

It’s especially hard to find teachers for math, science, foreign language, and special education.

District 11’s Executive Director of Human Resources, Danniella Ewen said, “In some cases we have to shuffle teacher around. In some cases we make the classrooms a little bit larger. In other situations we do a combo type of class.”

A classroom minus a teacher equals trouble for District 11. Their solution is finding highly qualified substitutes and recruiting teachers who have already retired. Now they’re hoping some new incentives will lead to a long term answer.

“We offer relocation assistance too hard to fill positions that are coming from out of state,” said Ewen. “We don’t necessarily call it a relocation bonus but we do provide them; we reimburse them up to a certain amount for their moving expenses if they come to our district.”

In 2010, the UCCS Teach department was born. Their goal is to get students in those tough majors like science, technology, and math to actually consider teaching those subjects.

Curtis Turner, Senior Instructor with UCCS Teach said, “If you’re going to go into a difficult degree, like a STEM degree, then they’re typically looking for those higher paying jobs like engineering. You know, an engineer starts out at almost twice what a teacher starts out at.”

Eric Reinhart, a student at UCCS teach, has already had a successful career in engineering but found himself wanting something more than a high paying salary.

“I enjoyed engineering but I wasn’t passionate about it and so I really wanted a career that I was interested in doing every day and wanted to put in more time with,” said Reinhart.

While hearing there’s a shortage of educators sounds scary, for Reinhart it means he’s not going to have a problem finding a job.

“At the time of graduating from college I think it’s a good opportunity for me.” Reinhart said, “It’s always good to be wanted and needed so that makes it kind of exciting.”

Turner says UCCS Teach is not even coming close to filling the demand for teachers in Colorado Springs, which is why school districts have to come up with new ways to attract them.

Ewen said, “The board of education is currently looking at placing a mill levy override question on the November ballot which would specifically include the ability for the district to offer higher compensation to our teachers and other employee groups.”

Colorado ranks as the 34th state in the nation for average teacher pay with a median salary of $50,000 a year. A Colorado teacher’s beginning salary though is $32,000, according to estimates from the National Education Association.

In the 2015 to 2016 school year, 40 states and the District of Columbia reported teacher shortages in science and even more states reported shortages in math and special education.

Ewen says District 11 ranks 7th out of 11 districts in the city when it comes to their teacher’s salaries.

“We do have to look at that as a challenge and how do we get teachers to want to come to us despite the fact that we may offer a lower salary,” said Ewen. “We have a step-in-lane type of system for our teachers so we do offer educational increments that can move them along those lanes and again some of the other things that we offer.”

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