CARS HOMES JOBS

Outlook 2012: Teachers scramble for jobs as schools cut positions

Sunday, February 19, 2012
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Van Antwerp Middle School Technology teacher Tom Blechinger in class.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Van Antwerp Middle School Technology teacher Tom Blechinger in class.

— There's been a lot of interest in the few teaching jobs advertised by Schalmont in recent years.

"We've averaged between 500 and 600 applicants," said Superintendent Valerie Kelsey.

That sums up the state of the K-12 teaching market: Too many people chasing too few jobs. With the weak economy, schools have been forced to cut back.

New York State School Boards Association David Albert said school districts have weathered a couple years of state aid cuts. Federal money plugged some of the gap but that is drying up. Districts have been forced to eliminate positions. As people have retired or been laid off, they have not been replaced. Now, school districts have to contend with a cap on the amount their tax levies can increase and still require approval by just a majority of voters. The cap is tied to growth in personal income, Albert said. If school districts want to exceed the cap, then 60 percent of voters must approve the budget.

All these factors are constricting the public school jobs market. "It doesn't appear that any hiring wave is on the horizon," Albert said.

As school districts continue to cut costs, Albert said he envisions more sharing of teachers in specialty subjects that are not mandated by the state -- such as music and art.

20,000 fewer JOBS

School districts shed about 20,000 jobs during the three years of the recession, according to the New York State United Teachers union.

"When you combine that with the education school students already in the pipeline, it does appear that there are plenty of highly skilled and talented teachers looking for work," said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn.

Korn believes that about half of the positions were shed through attrition. New York has a very experienced workforce. About 25 percent of the state's teachers have more than 25 years of experience, according to Korn.

"We would anticipate retirements down the road that would open up jobs for prospective teachers," he said.

Teacher retirements have soared. There were 8,423 teacher retirements at the end of the 2010-11 school year, which also includes SUNY professors, as the state does not break them out separately, according to Teachers Retirement System spokesman John Cardillo. This compares with 5,501 the previous year and a five-year average of about 6,000.

Cardillo said the increase likely reflects those people who took early retirement incentives offered by both the state and local school districts.

However, a lot of those people have not been replaced, according to Albert of the School Boards Association.

"It's not that they don't want to fill those positions," he said. "They don't have the revenue to be able to do that."

Ultimately, Albert said, the job outlook for teachers will depend on how the state's economy rebounds.

"If we see that significant economic growth and personal income growth, that would obviously translate to larger state aid increases for schools and that could translate to larger teacher hiring, but we haven't seen that yet," he said.

Schenectady City Schools Superintendent John Yagielski agreed that the job outlook for the near future is negative. Even the number of retirements has slowed, which contributed to some of the turnover.

District officials have been eliminating positions not because they think they are unnecessary but because they can't afford to keep them.

It all comes down to the weak economy and the shrinking state support for schools, according to Yagielski.

"Let's hope the whole economy turns in another direction," he said.

Yagielski said the best strategy for would-be teachers might be to stay in school and get their master's degrees.

Traditionally, teacher candidates would often finish their undergraduate work and then try to get a job while working toward their master's degree.

Even demographics are working against school districts. Rocco Ferraro, executive director of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, said fewer elementary school students are moving through the system.

Ferraro said he expects that enrollment is going to be stable, with no major declines or increases, so there won't be a need to hire additional teachers.

Moreover, districts have been raising class sizes or eliminating specific elective programs, further reducing demand.

STILL some DEMAND

But, it's not all bad news. Albert said there is still a demand for teachers in subjects like math and science, so those may be good subjects for teaching students to pursue.

Nationally, bilingual education has been a hot area for hiring but not so much in New York state, Albert said.

Also, state education aid is scheduled to increase 4 percent after three years of cuts. However, Albert said schools will continue to have rising expenses such as pension costs.

Korn also agreed that the job market for teachers has always depended on the subject. People who are looking for a teaching position in math, science or technology might have a better chance of finding work than those trying for an elementary school position.

"Those who are willing to work in urban districts or rural districts may find the path to employment a little clearer," he said. "Those are some of the most challenging assignments and districts need talented young people who are willing to take up those challenges."

Also, it may depend on where people are willing to work. School enrollment is growing in New York City and its surrounding suburbs and declining in the North Country and parts of upstate, according to Korn.

Nationally, employment of K-12 teachers is expected to grow about 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, it noted that growing states in the south and west will experience the largest enrollment increases, those in the Midwest would hold steady while the Northeast would decline. Job prospects are better in rural areas and inner city, low-income communities.

However, Korn said there will always be a need for good teachers.

"Our children need dedicated young professionals who want to go into the classroom and help change children's lives. We believe there's always going to be openings for great young teachers," he said.

 
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