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Substitute teachers help fill classes in Panhandle counties

August 28, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Relying on substitute teachers to fill vacant teaching positions, school officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties said Sunday they are ready for the start of classes today.

Two weeks ago, a Berkeley County Schools official said the school system faced 223 teacher vacancies this year, the highest number of open teaching slots the system has dealt with. Assistant Superintendent Rick Deuell criticized state officials for not doing more to boost teacher salaries to offset the trend.

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

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

Berkeley County Schools officials filled many vacancies during the summer and had about 40 to fill two weeks ago, Deuell said.

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Deuell said Sunday that all classes have teachers, and about 75 substitute teachers were used to fill open slots.

The school district will continue to advertise for teaching jobs in hopes of replacing some of the substitute teachers, Deuell said.

In some cases, the substitute teachers hired to take over classes have four-year degrees but not in fields of teaching, which state law allows, Deuell said.

Those teachers must go through 18 hours of substitute teacher training, Deuell said.

"We're as comfortable as we can be (with the situation)," Deuell said.

Berkeley County Schools officials are expecting more than 16,000 students to attend local schools this year, Superintendent of Schools Manny Arvon said.

About 700 new students are expected to enter the system, Arvon said.

In Jefferson County, roughly 8,000 students will attend schools, Jefferson County Schools spokeswoman Gail Woods said Sunday.

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

The vacancies were reduced to 40, and substitute teachers were used to fill those slots, Woods said Sunday.

"Everything is ready to go," Woods said.

Starting salaries for some Eastern Panhandle teachers is as much as $15,000 lower than teacher pay offered in neighboring states. Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to get a pay raise for teachers in the recent session of the state Legislature.

Classes start today in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties, but will not begin at Jefferson High School until Thursday because a $15.3 million renovation of the school is running behind, school officials have said.

School officials hoped that certain stages of the renovation would have been completed by the start of school, Woods said.

Woods, who teaches college preparatory English and other subjects at Jefferson High School, was in her classroom Sunday getting ready for the start of classes.

Jefferson High will be a mix of student learning and construction this year and Woods said the set-up is looking good so far.

"Of course, there's some areas they (students) won't be able to go into," Woods said.

The adjacent Ninth Grade Center will open today, Woods said.

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