Tenth in a series: School leaders say better pay would help them attract teachers to Arizona’s classrooms, especially in rural areas, and prevent educators from seeking more lucrative careers.
They’re calling for the legislature to increase public K-12 education funding after an Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey of 150 public district and charter schools found that Arizona schools had 1,443.66 open teaching positions by Aug. 30, 2019, and many schools hired long-term substitute teachers to fill that gap.
“Increased funding is critical as there are simply not enough teachers to fill the openings in Arizona,” said Dr. David Woodall, superintendent of Morenci Unified School District. “Current salaries and benefits are not sufficient to attract teachers into the profession.”
Ann Palmer, a reading teacher, said, “We do not have a teacher shortage, we have highly educated professionals who can make more money doing less work in other fields. When Arizona pays teachers what they are worth and working conditions improve (i.e. toilet paper and soap in the bathroom) you will find many teachers.”
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Why increased education funding is key
Increasing teacher pay is essential to school leaders ability to attract high-quality teachers, said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.
“We’re at a point now where it’s so bad that people just aren’t willing to do it for the amount of money that we pay. That will become very, very problematic in a short period of time,” Kotterman said.
AZEdNews Teacher Series:
Part 1: Small changes can create a safer, more inclusive, trauma sensitive school
Part 2: Film: Challenges of raising a family on a teacher’s salary continue
Part 3: Teacher training: Ways to help students
Part 4: How yoga helps students relax, focus, deal with stress
Part 5: School’s not out for teachers leading student learning activities
Part 6: What classroom supplies teachers buy and what they’d like for students
Part 7: Schools welcome back staff with rallies, learning opportunities
Part 8: New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage
Part 9: Possible changes ahead in what happens when a teacher leaves mid-year
Part 10: School leaders say better pay would attract more teachers
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Kotterman said, “I just feel like we’re completely under-invested in a lot of government programs in Arizona, not just education but especially education.”
That shows up in teachers’ and staff salaries first, because the costs of running a school district are pretty fixed once the buildings, buses and everything is there, Kotterman said.
“You don’t get a discount on power just because your budget gets cut, so the first thing to be impacted are staff salaries,” Kotterman said.
While recent budgets have put back some of the K-12 education funding cut during the recession, “when you have such a long-term under-investment, even with significant re-investment you don’t make up the difference,” Kotterman said.
Increasing public education funding is critical for retaining strong experienced teachers and for attracting new teachers to the profession, said Fernando Parra, superintendent of Nogales Unified School District.
“It is essential to make public education, teachers and school professionals a priority at the state level,” Parra said. “The profession is demanding and accountability can only improve if teacher and school professional salaries improve. But it must start at the state level with legislators who can make this happen.”
“Public education needs to be a priority and investing in our teachers profession is a key factor for better classroom instruction and academic success,” Parra said.
“Newly available survey data from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) shows that for the fifth consecutive year, Arizona students and schools continue to be deprived of high-quality educators, with over 20 percent of teacher positions vacant, said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
“While our state has made modest improvements, many of our classroom positions are vacant because our state has not done what is needed to attract and retain talented educators.,” Supt. Hoffman said.
“To solve this crisis, we need a sustainable source of funding for our education system, and we must meet the professional needs of our educational staff, teachers and administrators,” Supt. Hoffman said.
“If we simply continue down the path we’ve been on, we cannot expect different results,” Supt. Hoffman said.
What recruiting teachers is like for rural schools
Recruiting teachers to small, rural communities like Nogales and Morenci is a challenge, Parra said.
At a Teacher Recruitment Fair at the University of Arizona last year, 80 districts interviewed 100 prospective teaching candidates, and the district in the booth next to Morenci Unified was seeking 500 teachers, Dr. Woodall said.
“The shortage in Arizona is actually much more acute than realized,” Dr. Woodall said.
Morenci Unified is fortunate to have an attractive salary and benefit package, Dr. Woodall said.
“However, very few people are seeking to live in a company owned mining town in a very remote area – 60 miles from the nearest McDonalds or Walmart,” Dr. Woodall said. “This holds true in many of Arizona’s rural communities. When there is a severe teacher shortage – rural schools are limited to recruiting candidates that want to live in rural areas – a very small pool.”
While Nogales doesn’t have the amenities a larger, urban area does, it is a beautiful, safe place to live with a diverse population, Parra said.
“Our students are good and respectful. Our families and parents value public education and work in partnership with our schools,” Parra said.
How rural schools find teachers
Morenci Unified School District has increasingly relied on an informal grow-your-own teacher program, Dr. Woodall said.
“We have increasingly focused on trying to find local people – often spouses, children, grandchildren or friends of current employees and coaxing them into a teacher preparation program,” Dr. Woodall said.
“We currently have five teachers who are not certified or highly qualified but are working towards obtaining credentials,” Dr. Woodall said.
Nogales Unified also is finding that providing opportunities for support staff to become certified teachers is helping to recruit teachers, Parra said.
“These are individuals who are from our own community who are able to stay in Nogales and become educators,” Parra said.
The Arizona Department of Education has created two new positions that will focus specifically on innovative ways to recruit and retain highly qualified educators, like grow-your-own programs, mentoring networks and teacher residency models, Supt. Hoffman said.
“If we are to be regionally competitive, Arizona must invest in the resources our educators, students and schools need to be successful – it is critical to our state’s future,” Supt. Hoffman said.
Nogales Unified encourages student-teachers to stay on and work in the district, provides health insurance at no cost to employees and offers a recruitment or signing incentive of $1,500, Parra said.
“Most importantly, we have prioritized teacher salaries,” Parra said. “In the last five years we have increased our teacher base salaries to 23 percent. This average/ percentage rate does not include other incentives like Prop. 301 funding which have also been a significant increase.”
Dr. Woodall said, he was very happy to see the 20% teacher pay increase by 2020 plan and “thought that might pull some teachers back into education that have left for more lucrative jobs. However, I now realize it was too little too late – we began inspecting the tracks after a massive train wreck.”
“The teacher pipeline is empty, baby boomers are retiring, Arizona is growing, jobs are plentiful and teaching in Arizona has been de-valued,” Dr. Woodall said. “The result will be the erosion of any standards for being a teacher – that is currently Arizona’s only choice.”
“The answer is electing leaders who act on the belief that education is the top priority for Arizona’s future which is difficult in a highly polarized political environment.”