Schools facing `big crisis’ in teacher hiring
The Aspen School District is facing a crisis.
One-quarter of its teachers may leave in the next three to five years and replacing them won’t be easy.
That prospect has the district scrambling to create the kind of enticements that will bring in quality replacements, said Superintendent Tom Farrell, calling the situation “grim.”
In the next few years, Farrell is predicting a 25 percent teacher turnover, mostly a result of retirement. With the high cost of living here and a rookie-level salary that’s on par with state averages, district officials have their work cut out for them as they seek ways to recruit quality teachers, he acknowledged.
“I don’t think people realize that we’re heading into a big crisis,” Farrell said. “We’re darn lucky that the crisis didn’t hit four or five years ago.”
It was averted through aggressive recruiting campaigns, he said.
Aspen teachers who are at the top of the pay scale, based on years of experience, receive pay comparable to that of their peers in other districts, according to Farrell. But, for young teachers, it’s a different story. “New teachers get paid about average with other new teachers in the state,” he said.
“I keep saying I want this to be the best school system in America – we have to have the best teachers in America to do that,” Farrell said. “But with states like Massachusetts offering big bonuses [to entry-level teachers], and other states doing other aggressive things, it’s tough to compete.”
Affordable housing – a crippling factor for many local employers – is a hardship for the school district, as well. However, the district hopes to have new employee housing units in Woody Creek to offer prospective teachers next year.
“The best that it looks right now is that we’ll have seven duplexes in Woody Creek for new teachers next year,” Farrell said. “But that causes a problem with the existing teachers, as to why they can’t qualify for those units.”
There are dozens of teachers working in the district who could benefit from employee housing, he said.
While Massachusetts offers cash to sign new teachers, the Aspen School Board is looking into the viability of offering housing subsidies to entice and retain teachers in the district, according to Farrell.
Overall, Farrell characterized the dilemma facing the district as “very grim.”
But that doesn’t mean the School Board isn’t doing what it can to maintain a quality staff. For example, the board recently approved a measure that will allow teachers with more than 10 years of experience to enter the Aspen School District pay scale based on that experience.
In the past, teachers with more than 10 years’ experience entered the district’s pay scale at the 10-year level. Farrell said he is hopeful the measure will attract experienced teachers to work in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
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