Retirees, fewer grads, leading to teacher shortage in Maine

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Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett provides a teacher staffing update to the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its July 16 meeting.

PARIS — Assistant Superintendent Patrick Harnett says staffing trends show an older workforce continues to play a significant role in the teacher vacancies not only within the Oxford Hills School District, but schools across the state.

“Yes, it is roughly a quarter of our teaching vacancies,” he told the Advertiser Democrat of the need to fill vacancies over the summer.

Hartnett reported to the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its July 16 meeting that early staffing trends for the 2018-2019 school year show a total of 34 vacancies that need to be filled as of July 10 numbers.

Hartnett told the board the number represents “change” in approximately 11 percent of the teaching staff.

Hartnett said nine vacancies were created because of non-renewals or dismissals of teachers; eight were for retirements; six had job changes related to geography or family issues; five teachers sought a different teaching position; four were vacant due to advancements within the system and two teachers decided to change their careers entirely.

In 2014, Hartnett reported to the board there was an approximate 8 percent turnover of teachers, about the same as it had been in 2013.

The reasons for the teacher vacancies five years ago were the same as today: an older workforce that is beginning to retire; a young group of teachers that tends to move more; a few probationary staff members that were not considered a good fit for the district’s needs and less college graduates entering the teaching profession.

It is still early in the summer and the vacancy list is considered “volatile,” said Hartnett. Teachers will continue to be hired and more may leave by the time school starts later next month, but Hartnett said he expects the turnover will be comparable to other years.

“It is not uncommon to have 7 to 8 percent turnover,” he said.

The challenge to fill positions with new graduates is the same for school districts  statewide as the older workforce retires.

“It does appear that there are fewer graduates from typical teacher prep programs such as UMF (University of Maine, Farmington,)” he said. “I would also say that there is a teacher shortage in Maine. We have been fortunate to have quality candidates, but the quantity for many positions is not what it was even five years ago.”

The board has already began to make appointments and that, in itself, has created vacancies, said Hartnett.

At the July 16 Board of Directors meeting, directors appointed Stephanie Goss as director of guidance and Catherine Bickford as assistant principal at the Paris Elementary School.

Goss has worked as a guidance counselor at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School since 2013. Bickford has taught in the Oxford Hills School District for the past 14 years and most recently served as a grade 4 teacher at Guy E. Rowe School.

In other appointments, Jessika Sheldrick, who most recently served as literacy coach at the Oxford Elementary School was appointed teaching principal at the Otisfield Community School.

The challenge to fill positions with new graduates is the same statewide as the older workforce retires.

“It does appear that there are fewer graduates from typical teacher prep programs such as UMF,” he said. “I would also say that the there is a teacher shortage in Maine. We have been fortunate to have quality candidates, but the quantity for many positions is not what it was even five years ago.”

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net