Funding Woes Limit Teachers

December 1, 2006
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LANSING — Reduced funding and uncertainty about its future has experts and school officials saying recent education graduates may be more likely to leave the state.

Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), said the state’s public funding system could make some teachers less likely to stay and added that legislators need to be shown that funding is the basis for quality education.

“We’re going to be struggling in the state to get new teachers to stay here,” she said. “I believe all legislators feel Michigan needs quality education and it’s our job to prove that funding is the way to do that.”

Terry Serbin, assistant superintendent of personnel for the Monroe Public Schools, said his district hasn’t been able to hire many new teachers recently because of declining enrollment.

“The last couple of years, we’ve been limited in the number of hires we’ve been able to make because we have had to cut back programs,” he said.

 Serbin said the district still seeks new teachers but is forced to be more selective when hiring.

He added that some districts offer signing bonuses to teachers, but not his district.

“Michigan is one of the better paying states salary-wise, so most of the bonuses that are offered come for districts that are out of state,” Serbin said. “We’ve not found the need to offer bonuses.”

Last summer, Monroe hired 20 new teachers to replace those who retired or left the district. Serbin projects about half as many will get jobs next time.

“Right now we have four teachers retiring and we generally don’t know how many will leave until closer to the end of the school year,” Serbin said. “I am going to guess this year we would probably only hire about 10 new teachers.”

The starting salary for a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Monroe is $35,048.

The range of starting salaries throughout the state is $25,000 to $41,678, according to MEA statistics. Those figures cover 401 of the districts represented by the union.

Most of Monroe’s hiring is to replace more experienced teachers who went elsewhere or retired, but the new teachers aren’t easing the district’s financial load, Serbin said.

“Even there we’ll still lose money because with the money saved by hiring a younger teacher we still have to adjust everyone else for inflation.

“When we lose money we’re not like any other business where we can just raise our prices,” he said. “Unless something drastically changes, we’re going to have to have serious conversations about how to reduce our costs.”

This creates a difficult choice between balancing a quality education with financial constraints.

“Our main focus is the instruction of children, so we have to have a high-quality program and are going to be forced to do it at a cheaper rate,” Serbin said.

The most difficult positions to fill are in secondary schools.

“We have a lot less problems hiring elementary teachers than middle school and high school teachers, because to teach those students you need specialization,” Serbin said. “The hardest teachers to find are math and science, because so few graduates specialize in those areas.”

This is true for students who are about to graduate, said Kathy Mitchell, director of the Office of Field Placement in the College of Education at Western Michigan University.

Mitchell said only about 10 of her current 500 interns are student teaching in chemistry, physics and math.

“We have a glut of elementary education majors,” she said. “Those that major in secondary education are more likely to go into teaching history or other social sciences.”    

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