Schools having tougher time finding teachers, substitutes

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Filling teacher and substitute vacancies is becoming more challenging for area districts.

"In the future it's going to be a huge issue as more and more people retire. When we contact the colleges, they are not graduating as many teachers as they used to," said South Beloit School District Superintendent Scott Fisher.

As of Tuesday, South Beloit had all of its teacher vacancies filled, but then one teacher resigned. South Beloit has been able to stay staffed because it has low turnover and can do recruiting from other districts. Fisher doesn't know how long the good fortune will last as fewer teachers are graduating each year. 

Fisher said the district used to draw heavily from Rockford University, which put out about 40 graduates each spring. This time, he said the number was down to 12. Fisher said he was recently at a UW-Milwaukee graduation, which had less than 100 graduates going into teaching, down from the 300 in the past.

Because of fewer candidates, every district is competing for them.

Finding substitutes also remains challenging. In Illinois, Fisher said people can substitute teach with a four-year degree and there are many employment opportunities.

Fisher attributes the teacher shortage to young people pursuing other career fields. He said the expense of college, combined with the economics of the retirement system and teacher pay makes some young people think teaching "isn't worth it."

Another deterrent in Illinois, Fisher said, is the required national certification test. Graduates get two tries and if they don't pass they can't get onto a teacher track.

The Beloit Turner school district has filled its open teacher vacancies, however, it will have about five teachers out on maternity leave this fall and the long-term positions haven't been filled yet, said Superintendent Dennis McCarthy.

"It is very difficult to fill these as districts are still filling jobs so those available cannot commit until late in the process in order to determine if they will have a regular teaching placement in a district. After the dust settles there, we will determine our substitute teacher pool," he said.

McCarthy said it has become increasingly difficult to find substitute teachers in general as there are simply far less teacher candidates. With less teaching candidates, those available are filling the many openings in full-time teaching positions, which leaves less substitute teachers available.

"Most teachers clearly do not go into teaching to become a substitute teacher. Despite this obvious fact, we still need substitute teachers. Furthermore, districts now are not only competing head to head for a limited pool of full-time placement teachers, but a limited substitute pool as well," McCarthy said.

He went on to say the limited pool leads to districts driving up their substitute pay. In Turner's case, for example, it has raised sub pay to $120 a day. This is about a 30 percent increase from five years ago.

"Even with higher pay, we will experience many days throughout the year where subs cannot be found to fill open jobs. This results in having to have other teachers try to fill internally, principals substituting, or pulling specialists away from other student group work in order to cover classes," McCarthy said.

The Clinton School District only has a couple teacher openings remaining and were doing interviews as of Thursday. Superintendent Jim Brewer said elementary jobs that used to attract 75 applicants are now only attracting 25. Difficult-to-fill positions may get as few as a half a dozen applicants. Clinton has similar problems getting enough teacher applicants but also faces challenges being a rural district as millennials prefer to work in more urban locations such as Madison or Milwaukee.

As of noon on Wednesday, School District of Beloit Superintendent Don Childs said the district has 22 unfilled teaching spots, two administrative positions and 14 support positions for a total of 38 openings.

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