Upcoming retirements could cause further pinch

Monday, June 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The already challenging problem of getting enough teachers in Oklahoma classrooms could grow worse in the coming years.

Nearly one-third of Oklahoma's teaching force is eligible for retirement in five years, which could leave big holes in already hard-to-fill areas such as special education.

According to a 2002 study commissioned by the state's higher education regents, more than half of Oklahoma's 4,790 special education teachers will be eligible for retirement in five years.

Many school districts are having a tough time filling vacancies now. Oklahoma is producing plenty of qualified teachers, but many are choosing to teach out of state or are going into other fields.

The answer to keeping them in Oklahoma, educators say, is money.

``We're not short in ideas. We're short on money,'' said state Superintendent Sandy Garrett. ``We're becoming a teacher factory for other states and it's got to stop.''

The 2002 Teacher Supply and Demand Study showed that admission to teacher education programs is down in Oklahoma, but even those who finish often are not choosing to teach in Oklahoma. The state's teacher retention rate also is down compared with figures from a 1998 study.

The Dallas school district is using a television recruiting campaign in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and four states in the region to recruit teachers. The starting salary for a Dallas teacher is $34,100, or almost $7,000 more than a teacher's first-year salary in Oklahoma.

Some rural school administrators trying to fill positions in Oklahoma say they don't have much to offer financially and try to focus on convincing teachers with families that their towns are good places to live.

The regents' study points out alternative certification has filled some holes, although the attrition rate of such teachers is higher than that of regularly certified teachers.

More than 100 teachers also are enrolled in the teacher shortage employment incentive program. Participants must promise to teach math or science for five years in a public Oklahoma secondary school.

Those who comply can receive a loan reimbursement or incentive pay. The program has not yet been funded by the Legislature.

A new law also provides more money to pay toward teachers' health insurance premiums. Regents spokesman Harve Allen said Bank of America also offers 100 percent home financing plans for teachers.

But the study's recommendations concluded those programs aren't enough. Stipends, entry-year bonuses, retention bonuses and more low-interest, no-money-down mortgages also should be offered to teachers, the study showed.