Teacher shortage has administrators hustling before school begins

Human resource employees field constant phone calls in a room on Klein Ave in Oklahoma City. "When will you be able to start?" one staff member asked into the phone.She's not head-hunting for a business, she's looking for teachers. In Oklahoma City the first day of school is in less than two weeks, on Aug. 4. And the district still has more than 150 open teacher positions.

"All of them are worrisome, they're all important to our district," said OKCPS Recruitment Director Shannon Freeman.

Freeman says even with new grads, money makes it tough. She doesn't have bonuses or extra moving expenses to offer them as incentives."There are states that intentionally come in to Oklahoma to recruit those teachers," she said. She also points to teacher pay. Oklahoma is one of the only states where the average starting salary is also the required minimum salary for teachers at $31,600.

For teachers overall, average pay is $44,343. That's a number that ranks Oklahoma 49th in the nation without adjusting for cost of living, according to the Oklahoma Dept. of Education."They could go across to Arkansas or Texas or even Kansas and make between 5 and 15 thousand dollars more every year," said Alicia Priest, Vice President of the Oklahoma Education Association.But Priest says it's not just about pay. The first problem: baby boomers are retiring, leaving more openings. And making it difficult to replace them is uncertainty surrounding the future of teacher pensions and testing standards in Oklahoma, she says."Our evaluations are based on the test scores of standards we don't even know about. So there's a lot of uncertainty for teachers," said Priest.Oklahoma City's H.R. and social media recruitment campaigns are racing against time. "So what happens Aug. 4 if you still have all those open positions?" asked reporter Rebecca Schleicher.

"Well some of the teachers that we are wanting to hire are in the pipeline to become certified, some of them may be from out of state that are coming in and they're waiting on credentials," Freeman said, "so we will begin them as substitute teachers and then when their certificates are issued we'll immediately convert them over to contract teachers."She promises parents there will be a teacher in every classroom before the first day of school. But he or she may be a substitute to start.

Freeman says to combat the problem, Oklahoma City Public Schools plans to travel to regions around the country that have surplus teachers to recruit for next year. She says the recruitment team will begin that process in Sept. rather than December, when the recruitment process has began in the past.

Tulsa Public Schools reports 137 open teaching positions.

The University of Oklahoma is also trying to help curb the shortage. This week the university announced a loan forgiveness program for grads who stay in Oklahoma to teach.

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