Area schools scrambled to fill vacant teacher positions almost up to the first day of school this year, due to a large number of teacher retirements.
Several teachers retired at the end of the past two school years, largely due to changes to retirement benefits, school officials say. Those changes affected eligibility and service years, as well as increased contributions and cost-of-living adjustment reductions.
“There were a lot of retirements and yes, I think that is due to some changes in the state retirement system,” Triad Local Schools Superintendent Chris Piper said. “Some teachers had to make the difficult choice to retire because they would not benefit financially from continuing to teach.”
Urbana City Schools, Triad Schools and Graham Local Schools were hiring teachers in July and August as the clock ticked down to the start of school. Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools hired its last staff members two days before the start of school, Superintendent Danielle Prohaska said.
“This was a challenging year for staffing,” Prohaska said.
Urbana hired 23 new staff members for this school year, and 14 new staff members last year. There were six retirements this year and three the prior year, Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said. The number of retirements has declined from years before, but there were a number of teachers with the same levels of experience who retired because of the change in the retirement system. And there were increased resignations as staff moved to other districts. Thiel attributed those moves to the staff members being young and starting families or getting married and moving to another location. The district also had to freeze step salary increases in past years, which had an impact on resignations.
Mechanicsburg hired eight new teachers for both the current and previous school year. There was one retirement for the last school year and three retirements for the 2013-14 school year.
There were 20 full-time teachers, two half-time teachers and one three-quarter time teacher hired for the current school year at Graham, Interim Superintendent Matt Curtis said. That is much higher than last year’s numbers – for the 2014-15 school year, six full-time teachers and three half-time teachers were hired. Six teachers retired after last school year and three after the 2013-14 school year, which is not a huge number for Graham, Curtis said.
Triad hired 16 teachers this year and six last year, Piper said. Seven teachers retired at the end of the last school year, and three the year before that.
Though area districts do not tend to rehire retired teachers, some have had to do so because of the inability to fill certain positions. Urbana had to rehire retired employees to fill French and Spanish part-time teaching positions this year, Thiel said. Triad had to do so for one spot this year and one last year, Piper said.
There are a few subjects which are difficult to fill, superintendents said. At Urbana, those included the school psychologist, speech pathologist and intervention specialist positions. In Mechanicsburg, filling the math teacher position was tough. At Graham, the Spanish teacher position at the high school was the difficult spot. Chemistry was the tough one for Triad.
Though superintendents said they did not think there was a shortage of teachers in general, there does seem to be a shortage in some licensure areas.
“Part of the reason for this is that the field of education has become much less attractive recently,” Thiel said. “With the politics of testing along with the rating and grading of schools and teachers, young people are not seeing education as a viable career path.”
He added he has a family member who was discouraged by her own teachers from entering the profession.
Piper said he thinks there is less interest in the profession in general from increasing “expectations and scrutiny” of teachers across the state and nation.
“I think we’re seeing fewer young people drawn to the profession,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like the profession is respected as highly as it once was and ought to be. It is a difficult and extremely important job and those who do it well have an incredible impact on their students.”