Help wanted (please!): California school districts scramble to hire teachers

Larry Ferlazzo works with a student during a history class for English learners at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016.
Larry Ferlazzo works with a student during a history class for English learners at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016.

A growing teacher shortage has California school districts offering subsidized housing and signing bonuses in an effort to woo potential recruits.

The hiring frenzy is a reversal from the recession years that left 32,000 California educators unemployed and college students too discouraged to enroll in teaching programs.

Additional state tax revenue has enabled schools to reduce class sizes and restore programs that were eliminated during the economic downturn. That has led to sudden demand for teachers that the college pipeline is struggling to meet.

“With fewer fully credentialed teachers available to take over classrooms, the number of teachers hired on substandard permits and credentials has nearly doubled,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and co-author of a new report on the teacher shortage.

California has hired 7,700 teachers with temporary permits, waivers or on intern credentials over the past two years. A third of all new credentials issued in 2014-15 fit into this category, according to the report titled “Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage.”

Special education, math and science teachers are especially hard to find, with an increasing number working without full credentials, according to the report. California districts were able to find less than half of the fully qualified special-education teachers they needed in 2014-15.

In response, California school district officials have gotten creative.

Districts all over Merced County recruited new teachers from CSU Stanislaus, Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University through job fairs. Some, such as Atwater Elementary School District, began the recruitment and hiring process as early as the end of March last year. Los Banos Unified and Dos Palos Oro Loma Joint Unified both are offering $5,000 signing bonuses for math teachers, according to the Edjoin, a job posting website for education in the U.S.

“If you want a guaranteed job, teaching is a guaranteed job nowadays,” said Elmano Costa, the department chair of teacher education at California State University, Stanislaus. “If you want multiple job offers, have a math, science or special ed credential. That will guarantee you multiple offers.”

The California State University system, which educates half the state’s teachers, is trying to help meet the demand by doing a little recruiting of its own. Five campuses will be part of a pilot program this fall that will identify students who may make good teachers.

“It is a way to recruit students within our universities who may never have thought of teaching as a profession,” said Stephanie Biagetti,teaching credential chair at Sacramento State. “We want to identify those students as freshmen and sophomores, and move them through the pipeline as efficiently as possible.”

At CSU Stanislaus, enrollment for teacher credential programs was slashed in half during the recession, Costa said. Those numbers slowly are increasing.

In June, CSU Stanislaus issued 34 special education credentials, 83 multiple subjects and 70 single subjects. Of the single subject credentials, only eight were math and eight were science, Costa said. Applications for the multiple subject credential program are up this year at 164 compared to 109 in fall 2014. Single-subject credential program applications are at 116, up from 102 last year. Special education, the smallest of the three programs, increased by two.

Merced Union High and Merced City school districts both just barely filled all of their open positions, officials said. Each district filled about 40 credentialed positions, including teachers and counselors.

At Merced Union High School District, math, science, English and special education teachers were offered $5,000 signing bonuses, said Ralph Calderon, the assistant superintendent for human resources.

The Merced Sun-Star contributed to this report.