Drawn by pink slips issued to thousands of teachers, recruiters from school districts nationwide are wooing California teachers with greater fervor than usual.
Districts in Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Kansas, Virginia and Texas have been buying newspaper ads and renting billboard space, calling teachers unions and sending recruiters to regions facing the biggest school budget crunches.
The trend worries some Sacramento officials, who fear talented young teachers will be lured away from a state that already expects one-third of its 300,000 teachers to retire over the next decade.
"We have raiding parties from other states coming into the state of California to lure away many of our outstanding young energetic teachers," state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Friday. "We must stop the era of teacher poaching and make sure we fully compensate, respect and value our teachers."
The recruitment comes as California faces a budget shortfall of up to $20 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget would cut about $4.8 billion in education funding this year and next. As a result, as many as 24,000 teachers, librarians, nurses and other school employees have been issued "pink slips" warning that they may be laid off. Districts must issue final layoff notices on Thursday.
Historically, many teachers laid off in the spring are rehired over the summer after the state finalizes its budget and district finances become clear. But the current uncertainty is causing distress in classrooms, and recruiters are capitalizing on that angst.
After seeing California's woes, the 80,000-student Fort Worth Independent School District stepped up plans to place billboard ads in California reading "Your Future is in Our Classroom." In addition to the two billboards in San Diego, the Texas district is holding a three-day job fair there next week, and is expanding their billboard efforts to the Bay Area.
"It became obvious there was a ready-made market there in California, so we just latched onto that . . . because we know there are teachers who are looking for jobs," said district spokesman Clint Bond. "San Diego also has a similar lifestyle to Fort Worth -- the only thing missing is the ocean."
The district's message of a cheaper cost-of-living coupled with $44,500 starting salaries, $3,000 signing bonuses and annual stipends in certain specialties appears to be resonating. More than two dozen teachers have booked appointments with recruiters in San Diego next week, and others have flown to Texas for interviews.
While O'Connell and others increased pressure on Schwarzenegger at a news conference Friday in Sacramento, other education advocates rallied elsewhere in the state in advance of the governor's revised budget proposal expected Wednesday.
About 100 parents, including actress Patricia Arquette, gathered Friday morning near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to protest the proposed budget reductions.
"We're understanding the very real ramifications, and there's got to be a way to let the legislators know we're not for the cuts," said Victoria Hurley, whose son attends Castle Heights Elementary School in Beverlywood.
Bonnie Pierone of North Hollywood added, "I'm just having a very good experience with public schools, and I don't want to see schools having to let teachers go."
Additional protests are planned next week in downtown Los Angeles and Santa Ana.
David Long, the governor's education secretary, blamed state law that requires school district staffing and budget decisions to be finalized months before the state budget is finished. He touted the governor's proposal to put away surplus revenue during economic booms as a long-term solution.
Lisa Paisley, a sixth-grade teacher at Foothill Ranch Elementary in south Orange County, is not willing to wait. Although her layoff warning later was rescinded, the 35-year-old single mother of two decided she could no longer deal with the stress of constantly worrying about what future state budgets would hold.
She's starting her new job at a Virginia elementary school in the fall, after a decade teaching in California.
"I will be sad to leave California," the Laguna Niguel resident said. "I wish I could stay, but I have a family to support, and I want to feel valued as a professional."