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October 2, 2014

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Teacher recruiting ‘not pretty,’ and it’s expected to get uglier

The chronically teacher-starved Clark County School District is breaking teachers into a nervous sweat. Through March it has received fewer than half the applications compared with the same period last year. The numbers, Superintendent Walt Rulffes said, "are not pretty."

The district received 575 applications through March from prospective teachers, compared with 1,277 in the same period the previous year. And this year's tally is barely one-third of the 1,514 applications received in the same period of the year before that.

The district's teacher needs are so great - because of growth, resignations and retirements - it could stand to hire 1,600 teachers tomorrow. The number of vacancies is expected to double over the summer, because teachers typically wait until the end of the school year to submit their notices of resignation and retirement. The district makes up for the shortfall - it started the school year short 400 teachers - by hiring long-term substitute teachers and forgoing new state-funded programs .

Rulffes said although the start of the 2007-08 school year is more than four months off, the early numbers concern him.

Prospective teachers might be put off by Clark County because of the relatively high cost of housing compared with other parts of the country, despite the current price slump. The Legislature is proposing a 2 percent pay increase for teachers, but Rulffes said it will take a minimum 5 percent to significantly affect recruiting efforts.

The district is counting on the Legislature to continue authorizing the $2,000 signing bonus for new hires and retirement credits for staff working in hard-to-fill positions.

"There's no quick fix on the horizon for housing, and the incentives money is really vital to our ability to attract and retain teachers," Rulffes said Thursday.

A report on the teacher shortage will be presented today at the superintendent's weekly Cabinet meeting.

The disappointing early recruitment numbers raise troubling questions: Are teachers waiting longer to apply, knowing there are plentiful jobs nationwide, or is Clark County a less-attractive job destination, meaning the School District will end up hiring teacher prospects who were rejected elsewhere?

Since September, the district has interviewed 3,700 candidates and sent recruiters to nearly 200 career fairs, college campuses and conferences. As of last week, 476 job offers had been extended, and 173 were accepted.

"We're going all over the country. The problem is, the applicants aren't there," said Emily Aguero, the district's recruitment director.

In the face of the early disappointing numbers, Aguero's office has added 31 recruiting trips and is spending big bucks advertising in major newspapers across the country.

Clark County recruiters also are headed next month to Detroit and Ohio, where there have been recent teacher layoffs.

"We're also going back to places where we've been successful - Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Seattle," Aguero said.

The district also hopes that out-of-town teachers who spend Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas will spot the recruiting ad in USA Today announcing job interviews that weekend.

"We have to be aggressive and creative," Aguero said.

Jeff Hybarger, principal of Goynes Elementary School and one of the district's volunteer recruiters, said teachers who had been enthusiastic during the preliminary interview often change their minds after looking at the salary schedule.

"They say, 'I can't afford to live there. I can't make a living at the level I need to provide for myself and my family,' " Hybarger said. "It's not about people expecting to be able to buy their first home. It's about being able to pay rent on an apartment. That's become much more challenging with the Las Vegas Valley's housing prices."

The starting salary for new teachers in Clark County is $33,043. Teachers with seven years' experience and a master's degree earn nearly $44,000.

Hybarger said the $2,000 signing bonus, once a sure-fire recruiting tool, has lost some of its appeal .

"That was one of the maverick moves the district made years ago, and it was a big draw," Hybarger said. "Now other districts are offering even more and what we have isn't such a big deal."

Clark County's recruiters try to keep the competitive edge by boasting about the district's new schools and myriad opportunities for advancement - thanks to the very growth that is causing so many teacher vacancies in the first place.

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