Dis­tricts hire more than 100

Amid statewide teacher short­age, area school dis­tricts hire dozens of teach­ers, staff mem­bers

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com

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.

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