Districts hire more than 100
Amid statewide teacher shortage, area school districts hire dozens of teachers, staff members
There were no shortage of new faces on the first day of school this year.
August is the season for new hires and a review of personnel votes in area districts show more than 100 new teachers have been hired in the eight public school districts covered by The Mercury.
That review also shows that some districts are weathering more staff changes than others.
• In the Pottstown School District, no less than 19 new teachers have been hired over the summer, along with 11 other employees including one new principal, two assistant principals, a new director of career and technical education and a new director of co-curricular activities.
• Next door, the Pottsgrove
School Board approved eight teacher resignations and 11 new teachers, four of them year-long substitutes, at the meeting on Aug. 14.
• In the Boyertown Area School District, three new teachers have been hired and Kelly Mason was promoted from assistant principal at Boyertown Area Senior High School to the principal at Pine Forge Elementary School, replacing Stephan Pron who is resigning. This is in addition to the hiring of a new superintendent, Dana Bedden.
• In Phoenixville, four new teachers and five new long-term substitutes were hired in August and the district is still looking to fill the assistant principal post at the Early Learning Center/Manavon Elementary School.
• At its Aug. 20 meeting, the Spring-Ford Area School Board saw seven resignations and the hiring of 15 new teachers, three school psychologists and nine classroom assistants.
Spring-Ford Students and parents will also find new principals at Limerick and Brooke elementary schools in the wake of two retirements there.
• In July and August, the Perkiomen Valley School Board hired nine new teachers, eight long-term substitutes, four school counselors, two of which were replacements, two new special education supervisors and gave Superintendent Barbara Russell a 2.8 percent raise, making her new salary $190,180.
• Over the course of two school board meetings in July and August, the Owen J. Roberts School Board hired 23 new teachers, 10 of which were long-term substitutes.
Also, Owen J. Roberts High School will have a new principal, with Sean Early serving as interim principal, replacing Richard Marchini, who was promoted to director of pupil services. Eric Wentzel is the new dean of students at the high school.
And at Owen J. Roberts Middle School, assistant principal Corbin Stoltzfus was promoted to principal and Kevin Kirby appointed to serve as the new assistant principal there.
• At a special Aug. 13 voting meeting, the Daniel Boone School Board approved the hiring of eight new teachers and two guidance counselors, one of whom is a long-term substitute.
Hours before that meeting, Daniel Boone Superintendent James Harris made headlines by announcing his resignation. Assistant Superintendent Robert Hurley was appointed to serve as interim superintendent
• The Upper Perkiomen School Board hired ten new full-time teachers, two parttime teachers and replaced one speech therapist at its Aug. 15 meeting.
All of this hiring may seem like a lot of change, but it’s nothing new in Pennsylvania where a growing teacher shortage is making new teachers harder to find and higher-paying districts more attractive to teachers looking to improve their bottom line.
Fewer teachers in the pipeline
CBS News reported that nationally, fewer college students are studying education. Enrollments dropped by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to the Learning Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on education policy.
That number is almost doubled in the Keystone State, where data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows that from 2013 to 2015, the number of students graduating from teacher-training programs plummeted by 63 percent.
In 2013, 16,631 students graduated from teachertraining programs; by 2015, that number had dropped to 6,125, according to the state’s figures.
That may be due to two major economic factors, the fact that teacher salaries were cut during the Great Recession and never recovered, and the fact that college students face increasing student debt when they graduate, Linda Darling-Hammond, the president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, said during a press call.
CBS reported that nationally, “teachers are earning almost 2 percent less than they did in 1999 and 5 percent less than their 2009 pay, according to the U.S. Department of Education. “
“There are studies about this that show people choose careers based on the salary in relation to the debt they have from college,” Darling-Hammond said. “People can’t stay in a profession where they can’t afford to support their own families.”
Darling-Hammond’s observation echoes comments made by former Pottstown Middle School teacher Michael DiDonato when he talked to the school board in 2017 about his resignation.
He said while he loved working in Pottstown, he and his wife had a baby on the way and they simply could not afford to turn down higher pay at other districts.
Last month, the Pottstown School Board accepted the resignation of his wife Dana, who has taught in Pottstown since 2009.
PA teachers paid less than others
According to a February report released by the Economic Policy Institute: “Pennsylvania public school teachers are undercompensated relative to other fulltime workers with similar education and skills. Their weekly wages are 12.1 percent lower than the wages of comparable full-time employees in Pennsylvania, and their weekly compensation (including both wages and benefits) is 6.8 percent lower.”
The Economic Policy Institute is a national, nonprofit think tank that focuses on “the economic condition of low- and middle-income Americans and their families.”
Ironically, the national report Darling-Hammond was referencing on the press call shows that Pennsylvania’s average starting teacher salary of $44,144 is 12.5 percent higher than the national average of $38,617.
In fact, Pennsylvania ranks highly in that report in the “teacher attractiveness rating” matrix developed by the Learning Policy Institute with only Wyoming ranking higher.
But Pennsylvania’s ranking as being among the most un-fair in the nation in terms of funding fairness means that salaries in specific districts vary widely from the statewide average.
For example, last year, The Mercury reported that while Montgomery County has some of the highest average teacher salaries in Pennsylvania, Pottstown has the lowest average salary in the county.
Pottstown is underfunded by more than $13 million a year due to the uneven application of Pennsylvania’s “fair funding formula” and that shortage of resources is reflected in everything from classes and extras offered, to teacher salaries.
Making matters more stressful is that the teacher shortage more severely affects low-income, high-minority schools, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
“High minority schools in Pennsylvania are relying on uncertified teachers at a rate of 10.7 to 1 when compared with low, minority schools, a rate that is more than two-and-a-half-times greater than the national average,” EPI wrote in its February report, quoting a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute.
Last year, the Learning Policy Institute reported that more than 100,000 classrooms across the country would be staffed by someone not qualified to teach.
Pensions cut for new teachers
And while salary is certainly a factor, long-term economic benefits are also part of a college student’s career decisions.
Although school districts have struggled for the past five years to cover the ever-rising cost of state pensions, pension benefits for new teachers are being cut in an attempt to control that cost.
Act 120, passed in 2010 cut pension benefits for teachers hired in 2011 and beyond. Then last year, Act 5 was adopted, further cutting pensions for teachers hired in 2019 and beyond, according to Economic Policy Institute.
“Act 5 will require new teachers to participate in a pension plan that significantly shifts funding from the state and school districts onto employees. The new plan includes 401(k)style offerings, which also shift retirement income risk onto teachers,” the report said.
“Pennsylvania’s pension reductions may have a long-term detrimental impact on recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. In turn, research suggests that failure to recruit and retain qualified teachers with competitive compensation will harm student achievement,” the Economic Policy Institute wrote in its February report.
New Pottstown teachers participate ina series of induction meetings to familiarize them with the district prior to the first day of school.