St. Tammany public schools still down 96 teachers after recruiting wave, salary boosts | Education

Despite recent efforts to boost teacher pay, St. Tammany Parish public schools have nearly 100 teacher vacancies heading into the 2022-2023 school year, officials said at a Thursday School Board meeting.

Although officials have filled 235 spots over the summer, the remaining 96 jobs – still vacant three weeks before classes begin – showcase the district’s ongoing struggle to attract qualified teachers, the parish teachers’ union president said.

The district employs 5,600 people at its 55 campuses. Classes begin Aug. 8.

“The fact that we still have 96 spots to fill after such a Herculean effort speaks to the depth of the teacher shortage crisis, which is a statewide and national problem,” said Brant Osborn, president of the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees.

The district agreed in May at the union’s urging to cough up an extra $20 million for teacher salaries, the largest financial incentive approved for educators in 20 years, Osborn added. That comes on top of an extra $1,500 raise state officials have authorized for every K-12 public school teacher beginning this fall. Still, finding teachers to teach math, science, foreign language and special education has been a challenge.

“We’re approving applications daily. We’re focused on recruiting and retention and what we need to do to fill those spots,” district Human Resources Director Steve Alphonso said Thursday.

This year, the system is also launching “Teach St. Tammany,” an alternative certification program for college graduates. Aimed at training new teachers for hard-to-fill jobs, the program has already enrolled 24 participants – more than officials expected, Alphonso said.

Over the next year, that group — comprised of paraprofessionals, recent college graduates and others entering the teaching profession for the first time — will receive professional development and mentoring, he added.

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St. Tammany is one of many public school systems across the state grappling with a teacher shortage. State lawmakers have worked to address the crisis; the $1,500 raise, and a separate $750 raise for support staff, was thanks to a law passed in this year’s legislative session.

Another law passed this year targets retired teachers, offering them higher salaries and allowing them to continue receiving benefits if they return to the classroom to fill a critical need.

Alphonso said the latter change could help fill some vacancies, although it comes with a few snags. A retiree has to be certified in a “critical shortage area” – such as math or special education – to qualify. “It’s gonna take time. It’s not as easy as it seems,” he said.

The law allows the system to hire back other retired staff, such as bus drivers, without that hassle. The district has hired six such drivers so far, although Alphonso said drivers are generally hard to find.

After months of tension over bus driver pay that culminated in a sickout last year, the district only has four vacancies as of July. The district is still negotiating bus driver contracts.

Osborn, the union president, said the district must do more if it wants to recruit top-tier candidates.

“Attracting and retaining talent will require resources, but also improvements to working conditions. We have to take care of the people who take care of the kids,” said Osborn.


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