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Wages blamed for empty W.Va. teacher spots

August 16, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.VA. - As they prepare for the opening of school in a little more than a week, Berkeley County Schools officials have had to grapple with 223 teacher vacancies to fill - the highest yet - and a top school official criticized state officials for not doing more to boost salaries to offset the trend.

Low pay for local teachers has been drawing the ire of educators for years, and 95 percent of teachers who have resigned recently from Berkeley County Schools cited pay as their reason for leaving, said Assistant Superintendent Rick Deuell.

Teachers complained about the pay in exit surveys, Deuell said.

Starting pay for a Berkeley County teacher is about $29,000, compared to the estimated $39,000 that is being offered by Washington County Schools in Maryland and the approximate $44,000 that is being paid by Loudoun County Public Schools, which is across the Virginia line from Jefferson County, Deuell said.

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Frederick County, Va., is offering a starting teacher salary of more than $30,000, Deuell said.

"It's almost embarrassing for us to make that offer," said Deuell, referring to Berkeley County's $29,000 salary.

Eastern Panhandle teachers have said they are disgusted and angry over the failure of the state Legislature to pass pay raises in the last legislative session.

A bill that would have given the Eastern Panhandle an extra $3.5 million a year for teacher salaries died in the House of Delegates in the last legislative session. Some lawmakers said the mentality among lawmakers from other parts of the state is that no relief should be given to one particular section of the state unless it can be provided statewide.

"The people in Charleston (W.Va.) don't listen (to) what's going on here," Deuell said.

Berkeley County Schools officials have been gradually filling the 223 vacancies and have about 40 more to fill, Deuell said, adding that substitute teachers will likely be the ones to fill the slots.

Robbie Brown, coordinator of human resources for Jefferson County Schools, said the school system had about 85 vacancies to fill this year, which is about the norm for the school system.

Although about 70 positions have been filled, about 47 jobs remain open due to other issues like new positions required to handle increased enrollment, Brown said.

Brown said it is "always a challenge" to fill the jobs because of a shortage of teachers in areas like math, special education and science.

Although it was not known how many vacancies Morgan County Schools dealt with this year, there were eight as of Monday, said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dave Banks.

Deuell said the problem of high teacher vacancies will continue if solutions are not found. Deuell said Virginia officials are considering a "cost-to-compete supplement" for their teachers to make teaching salaries in Northern Virginia more competitive with those in Maryland.

The problem is, such a supplement will "put us in the hole even further," Deuell said.

Deuell said Berkeley County Schools officials often have to wait to hire teachers until school districts in surrounding states with higher salaries finish hiring.

Then Berkeley County has a better chance of "snagging some teachers. It's a struggle," Deuell said.




By the numbers



Eastern Panhandle school systems reported the following number of teaching vacancies as of Tuesday:

· Berkeley County - 40

· Jefferson County - 47

· Morgan County - 8

Schools are scheduled to open in West Virginia on Monday, Aug. 28.

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