The media is reporting that school districts in Wisconsin, and across the nation, are having difficulty recruiting teachers. Is this true? Is it happening in northwest Wisconsin?

The Milwaukee Journal says teaching is not attracting young people and existing teachers are quitting for higher-paying jobs in the private sector or in other school districts. Most schools are eventually filling positions, but schools are having a harder time with fewer applicants to pick from. Many schools are having difficulty recruiting for “higher level” subjects and specialty staff. Math, science,  technology, and special-ed teachers. School psychologists and speech pathologists are difficult to find.    

Nationally, retention of teachers is a problem. The average turnover for teachers is 17 percent according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Other sources say turnover is especially high among new teachers, with 40 to 50 percent leaving the profession within five years. Turnover for teachers is higher than other professionals.

Local district administrators report our area is doing better. Janna Stevens, District Administrator in Superior, says Special Ed and Tech Ed positions have been difficult. Their web site lists openings for a Library Media Specialist and a Speech Pathologist. She says they do better because they are able to attract applicants from rural districts. Dr. Sara Croney, District Administrator in Maple, says all positions are filled but they have a need for a variety of substitutes. Micheal Cox, District Administrator for Solon Spring, says all their positions are filled. He is also administrator in Mellen and recruiting is harder there. They started the school year with two unfilled openings. Retention is also better. Most teachers are leaving either to retire or to move to another district for better pay or personal reasons.
Why is our area doing better? It is possible smaller schools with few discipline problems and nice communities help recruitment and retention. Family connections and lack of alternative jobs in the local area may be a factor. Although the average teacher salary is lower than other professional jobs, locally teacher pay is good in comparison to the other limited job options.

Statewide school budget cuts have resulted in layoffs which may have helped with recruiting The Wisconsin Budget Project reports the number of teachers in Wisconsin public schools has fallen by nearly 3,000, even as enrollment has increased slightly. In Wisconsin full-time equivalent teachers dropped from 60,500 in 2004-5 to 57,600 in 2012-13. This decline in the number of teachers started before Act 10 in 2011, but most of the decline occurred after the 2011-12 school year.

There was a surge in teacher retirements after Act 10 which required teachers to pay significantly more out-of-pocket for health insurance and toward their retirement program. The Walker administration also made efforts to change the public retirement system. Both these actions led to an unexpected increase in teacher and other public employee retirements.

Even though local districts are filling current positions there are implications for the future. The problem will get worse as more teachers retire. It will get worse as fewer people choose teaching as a career.  Mr. Cox says, “It will be tougher and tougher, as time goes on, to maintain quality school programs.”

The political turmoil in Wisconsin certainly has not helped. It is obvious that cutting teacher’s take home pay, ending union bargaining rights, and the cutting school budgets can not help retention and recruitment of teachers. It may not be fair to blame Governor Walker for the situation. But it is fair to expect action to address the growing problem. Do we have to wait for a crisis before we act?

It is time to recognize that teachers have a difficult and important job that deserves respect, appreciation, and support. It is time to stop scapegoating the profession for political talking points. It is time to make Wisconsin’s schools a model for the nation that attract the best teachers.