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SCHOOL districts straining to recruit and retain teachers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Struggling with a shortage of new teachers, some Oklahoma school districts recruit people leaving the military, while others offer housing perks.

Math teachers are particularly hard to find throughout the state, while rural areas are searching for counselors and special education teachers, said State Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett.

In the Oklahoma Pandhandle, the 130-student school district in Balko has 10 houses that are offered to teachers at reduced rent.

``A lot of them would not have a place to live if they didn't have this,'' said school district secretary, Lanelle Wright. ``It is five miles to the closest town, which is just two churches and very little rental property.''

``It is hard to get teachers out here because some people are not too crazy being in a rural area.''

Ted Metscher, president of the Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers Union, said low pay is to blame for a teacher shortage in the state's biggest city.

``We expect many teachers to move to Texas where the starting salary is $34,000, which is the top of the scale here,'' he said. ``The Legislature has just thrown us to the wolves.''

Ramona Paul, assistant state superintendent of education, said there are no statewide statistics for teacher vacancies.

Oklahoma City has about 150 vacancies and Tulsa has 50.

Recruiting New Teachers, a recruitment research group in Belmont, Mass., estimates that during the next decade, U.S. schools will need to hire 2 million teachers to meet rising enrollment demands and replace an aging baby boomer teaching force.

June Ehingher, assistant executive director Oklahoma State School Board Association said Oklahoma has been active in a program that allows some people who leave the military to teach for up to two years while they are working to gain teacher certification.

Ann Flanagan, director of special services for the Durant School District, said she tries to sell prospective teachers on recreational opportunities, but sometimes feels as though she is fighting a losing battle.

``We go to job fairs at colleges throughout the state and use Lake Texoma as a selling point, but there are not very many bright lights or a mall in Durant,'' she said. ``We lose a lot of teachers because they won't move south of Moore or Norman.''

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