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W.Va. administrators say fewer positions to fill

July 30, 2007

From staff reports

School officials in the Eastern Pandhandle of West Virginia have struggled for years to fill teaching positions and to keep teachers from fleeing across state lines for higher pay in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Even with a 3.5 percent raise awarded to teachers across the state by the Legislature earlier this year, salaries still lag about $10,000 behind Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Here's a look at how school districts are filling vacancies for the coming school year, which starts in less than a month.

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Berkeley County

Pay hikes approved for Berkeley County's public school teachers earlier this year are not the only reason administrators believe there has been a decrease in the number of vacant positions. Now, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience will be paid $31,000 a year.

As of July 23, there were 64 vacancies, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Deuell. Including new positions created for the coming school year, the district had 93 vacancies at the end of the 2006-07 school year, Deuell said.

"The human resource department anticipates 20 to 30 positions of the current vacancies will be filled with highly qualified teachers by the time school opens," Deuell said.

"For those positions in which no qualified individual has applied, Berkeley County Schools is in the process of preparing to post permanent substitutes in August in order to fill vacancies for the 2007-08 school year."

Aside from the Board of Education and State Legislature's approval of salary hikes, Deuell cited an increase in the number of substitute teachers who have enrolled and completed programs of study to be hired as regular employees, a new Web-based application system that now allows principals to review job openings and applicants more efficiently, an increase in benefit programs and focused recruitment efforts and materials.

Currently, vacancies exists for the following subject areas: computer science, English, elementary education, guidance, math, reading, science, Spanish and special education.

Superintendent Manny Arvon said a key to addressing what has been a personnel crisis is "sticking together" as a community when presenting the issue to lawmakers in Charleston, W.Va. And that has included voters' support of the school district's excess levy.

"If you have outstanding teachers, all the other things will happen," Arvon said. "This is a joint effort by this community as we keep moving forward to address the growth."

Jefferson County

In Jefferson County, there were 17 positions to fill at the beginning of the hiring season, down from the 35 positions that had to be filled last year, said Dale Shaffer, coordinator of human resources for Jefferson County Schools.

But school officials say the number of vacant teaching positions is often a fluctuating one, and last week in Jefferson County, there were about 25 positions open.

The starting salary in Jefferson County for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience is $30,172, Shaffer said.

Although the number of vacant teaching positions might not seem as daunting this year, finding teachers for the positions is tough work.

Shaffer said school officials have been traveling throughout the country looking for teachers to fill vacant positions.

School administrators have been as far south as Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., looking for teachers and have traveled through New York and visited colleges like Penn State to search for instructors.

"Some of the trips through New York were four- and five-day swings," Shaffer said.

Shaffer said many school districts are looking for the same type of teachers - math, science, special education and English-as-a-second-language instructors.

Morgan County

In Morgan County, the smallest of the three Eastern Panhandle counties, officials also grapple with their share of vacancies.

The district had 22 vacant positions on Aug. 16 of last year and filled all but six of them. The final six were filled by long-term substitute teachers.

This year, the district started the so-called hiring season with 17 vacant teaching positions and have filled all but three of them, according to Assistant Superintendent Joan Willard.

A starting teacher salary with a bachelor's degree is up 5 percent to $30,443.

Willard anticipates more vacancies because people have not finalized new job offers or some are moving to different schools within the county, which creates "a lot of shuffling."

If the teaching positions are not filled by the start of school, they will be filled with long-term substitutes.

Willard said vacancy numbers in prior years are similar and she is hopeful the pay raise will keep teachers in Morgan County.

Willard said getting locality pay will help Morgan County.

"We need certified teachers. The locality pay will help to enhance our recruitment possibilities. There is no downside for Morgan County," she said.

Staff writers Dave McMillion, Trish Rudder and Matthew Umstead contributed to this story.

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