Teacher Recruiters Learn a Lesson in Scarcity : Inglewood District One of Many Facing Shortage

Times Staff Writers

Joseph Steele, chief recruiter for the Inglewood Unified School District, smiled broadly at the prospective teacher and launched into his sales pitch.

"Greetings from sunny Southern California," he said.

Armed with the lure of balmy weather and other enticements, Steele had come to California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo to find a few good teachers--70, to be precise.

That's how many vacancies Inglewood, a district of 15,000 students, needs to fill by September. It is not having an easy time doing so.

After a decade-long glut, growing enrollments, aging teaching staffs and a disdain for teaching as a profession are causing a shortage of teachers once again. A mad scramble for qualified instructors is occurring here and in other parts of the country, and educators predict that the problem will get worse before it gets better.

Projection for Next Decade

According to a recent Rand study, by 1988 there will be enough new teachers to satisfy only 80% of the country's demand. State education officials predict that California alone will need 110,000 new teachers over the next decade.

The short-term picture is not much brighter. The giant Los Angeles Unified School District needs 2,500 teachers by September, primarily to fill vacancies in its southeastern and south-central regions. Hundreds of vacancies exist in other parts of Los Angeles County, in particular the East San Gabriel Valley and such Southeast districts as Whittier and Long Beach.

Many areas have not been affected, such as the Westside and, except for Inglewood, most of the South Bay. In those areas, declining enrollments and other factors have ensured a stable supply of teachers. But even some districts that are not in trouble yet say it is only a matter of time before the shortage hits them; as several national surveys show, the supply of new teachers is not keeping pace with attrition or with the growth of the school-age population.

Rising enrollment and teacher attrition through retirements, reassignments and transfers have created the Inglewood school district's pressing needs. Last year Steele had to hire 120 teachers, including probationary teachers and long-term substitutes. With 70 vacancies to fill this year, he began recruiting in April, visiting six college campuses in four weeks. So far, his efforts have netted about 25 teachers.

"We're not nearly half way" toward meeting the district's goal, he said.

Bilingual Instructors Needed

Other districts are not having an easy time recruiting, either. The predominantly Latino Bassett School District in the San Gabriel Valley has been subscribing to a Sacramento-based computer matching service to find 15 to 20 bilingual and special-education teachers, said Fay Mason, assistant to the superintendent. Bilingual instructors are a critical need because 60% of Bassett's 10,000 students speak limited or no English, she said. To cope with the shortage, the district has been hiring teachers lacking full certification on an emergency basis while they complete their training.

The 11,000-student Azusa Unified School District is searching for 30 new teachers by September, particularly in the areas of bilingual education, special education, math, science and English. "Compared to Los Angeles, that is a drop in the bucket," said Assistant Supt. Robert Kahle. "But L.A.'s needs affect all of us. They have recruiters out all the time, and they have a large budget--which means they may get there first."

Districts Affected by Low Wages

Although the state Legislature has provided the funds to increase starting salaries in most districts to at least $18,000 a year, some districts are still handicapped by unattractively low wages. With a beginning salary of $15,760, teachers in the Compton Unified School District, for instance, are among the lowest-paid in the county.

"It's really difficult for me to recruit," said district personnel director Joseph Simmons, whose recruiters have traveled as far as Washington state to spread the word about Compton. "The only thing we can do is appeal to the (recruits) about the need. We tell them the inner-city schools need good people. You try to appeal to their humanitarian side."

To find teachers, recruiters are making the rounds of college campuses up and down the state, armed with brochures extolling the virtues of their districts. Some are searching in other states and even in other countries.

The Long Beach Unified School District, for instance, sent a team to Vancouver, Canada, in April and interviewed more than 100 candidates there. According to district spokesman Richard Van Der Laan, Long Beach will gain 1,500 new students in September, primarily because of a growing minority population, and needs to hire at least 50 teachers for next year.

Credit Given for Previous Experience

Some districts are offering special inducements to attract recruits. For instance, most districts give transferring teachers a maximum of five years credit for previous experience, forcing teachers with more experience to take a salary cut if they want to be hired. Now the Los Angeles city school district is offering full credit for previous experience, recruitment director Michael Acosta said. The Whittier Union High School District is doing the same.

"It is a big plus," said Bill Lawson, president of the Whittier School Employees Assn. "It gives a teacher a chance to come to this district without being penalized."

For the most part, math, science, English and bilingual teachers are in the most demand. According to national surveys, those specialized teachers are scarce throughout the country, making competition among school districts keen.

"We're all after the same people," Acosta said.

Ronald Matejcek, personnel director for the Covina Valley Unified School District, said he is thinking about retraining teachers to fill needs for math and science instructors. His proposal would provide district funds to pay for the additional classes the teachers would have to take to earn specialized credentials. The Covina district needs to hire 20 new teachers by the fall, including two or three math and science instructors.

In Azusa, assistant superintendent Kahle said he also tries to stay close to home in his recruitment efforts. Three years ago, for instance, he recruited a school maintenance man who had completed three years of college to be an auto shop teacher. The maintenance man later earned his teaching credential. "If I recruited out of state, it's risky how long (a new teacher) would stay in Azusa," he said.

Although Azusa schools enjoy a good reputation, the district lacks the advantages that more affluent and more scenic communities have in recruiting and retaining good teachers. "If I recruit in-house," Kahle added, "there's a better chance they'll stay."

The reasons for the teacher shortage are complex. But a major factor is that, after a decade of declining enrollments, the elementary school rolls are beginning to swell again with the offspring of the baby-boom generation. "Many districts are seeing increased enrollments," said Tim McClure of the California School Boards Assn.

However, the number of teachers graduating from schools of education has declined precipitously over the last several years. According to a joint study by the Los Angeles County superintendent of schools and California State University, teacher training programs in California and the nation are producing 50% fewer teachers now than in 1971.

Educators say the decline was partially a response to the teacher surpluses that characterized the 1970s. However, studies have shown that the profession lost many potential teachers to more lucrative occupations. In particular, academically talented women stopped flocking to teaching in the numbers they once did because of widening opportunities in other fields.

"For years the only careers open to women were teaching and nursing. Now the sky is really the limit," said Denise Holt, consultant to the 174,000-member California Teachers Assn. "How can we compete with a $40,000-a-year advertising job?" she asked.

A check of education schools at seven major private and public colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area shows that approximately 1,200 new teachers are graduating this year--not nearly enough to satisfy local needs. Although most of those schools are reporting increased enrollment in teacher-training programs for the first time in three years, observers say it will be some time before supply equals demand.

At the same time, retirements are beginning to take a toll. Many teachers who were hired after the close of World War II--during the last shortage--are now reaching retirement age. In the Whittier Union High School District, for instance, retirements account for 20 of the 40 vacancies that have to be filled next fall. In the Covina Valley Unified School District, a third of the teaching staff is 55 or older. The teacher shortage "will really hit us in the next few years," said personnel director Matejcek.

Finally--ironically--the education reform movement of the last few years also is contributing to the shortfall. The state Legislature now requires all teacher candidates to pass a basic skills test. In 1983, the first year the test was administered, more than one-third failed; last year, about one-fourth failed.

"I shouldn't call it a problem (but) we do have CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test)," said Inglewood's Steele. "Everyone I have talked to says it is important to keep those standards high, not dilute them. But it is cutting in to the teacher supply, he said.

Inglewood has much in common with other districts grappling with the shortage. For instance, though Steele could not provide exact figures, he said more teachers in Inglewood are retiring, while the enrollment is beginning to climb.

In addition, like many of the districts that are scrambling to hire new teachers, Inglewood has mostly minority students (66% black, 30% Latino, 3% Anglo and 1% Asian). That poses special challenges in the classroom, Steele said, and requires careful screening of candidates to be sure they have a "sensitivity to multicultural backgrounds."

Also, recruiting is expensive, and a small district such as Inglewood is hard-pressed to compete against larger districts with bigger budgets. Steele said he could use five times the $4,000 the school board allocated for recruitment this year. "When you compete against larger districts with more personnel, you're going to be at a disadvantage," he said.

But in interviews with prospective teachers, Steele emphasizes the positive.

"We tell them Inglewood is close to the beach, close to the airport and close to the big city, which we feel is a recruiting plus for us," Steele said between interviews at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which drew recruiters from 53 school districts to a two-day recruitment fair in May.

Steele said Inglewood's competitive $18,719 beginning salary and stable conditions at the middle-management level of school principals were strong selling points, too.

But the real advantage Inglewood may have had was the decision to include a Cal Poly alumnus on the recruiting team. About 250 teacher candidates are graduating from Cal Poly this June, and most of them want to stay in the San Luis Obispo area because of the pastoral scenery and the mild central coast climate, according to associate placement director Shel Jurrell. Selling them on Inglewood could be tough. But "If they know someone from Cal Poly went there and is happy," Burrell said, "it helps."

So Morningside High School teacher Meryl Brown, the Cal Poly alumnus, was ready with a reply when one prospective teacher asked what it was like to go from "a place like Cal Poly to the inner city." "We used to call this place 'Slow City,' " she said os San Luis Obispo, smiling. Teaching in Inglewood "has been a good opportunity for me," she added.

Inglewood was still interviewing candidates long after most of the other recruiters had gone home. When it was over, Steele said he probably would offer contracts to three of the seven applicants he spoke to. Although that doesn't seem like much of a haul, the recruiter pronounced the trip successful.

"It provided me with the opportunity to establish a liaison with the university and meet some of our future teachers on the spot," he said.

"We're not going to fall all over ourselves offering contracts," he added. "We want to make sure they want to come with us. We want to make sure it's a successful marriage--or at least a successful honeymoon."

District recruiters like Steele seem as worried about hanging on to teachers once they are hired as they are about finding enough of them. And, according to teacher union representatives, that is a healthy concern. New teachers who decide to leave the profession tend to drop out within the first four years on the job, said Whittier teachers' union President Bill Lawson.

School districts hope the mentor teacher program, one of several educational reforms proposed by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig two years ago, will help. Mentor teachers are outstanding instructors, chosen by a committee of administrators and peers, who receive a bonus of $4,000 a year to give guidance to new teachers. However, critics of the program say that because mentor teachers are still required to hold down a full teaching schedule, they don't have enough time to devote to counseling.

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