Friday, Aug. 21, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Monday is back to school for students, but for Clark County School District officials it’s back to grappling with a familiar problem: An unrelenting teacher shortage.
More than 900 full-time classroom positions are still empty as of this week.
Some schools are short as many as 15 full-time teachers, while others are fully staffed. And even though most of those classes will be filled by less qualified long-term substitutes, advocates say the shortage is taking its toll.
“Sadly the news isn’t surprising to hear,” said Victor Wakefield, a member of the Nevada State Board of Education. “We haven’t been able to start school fully staffed as long as I’ve lived here.”
But the shortage is only getting worse.
Vacant teaching positions are up around 300 from earlier this year, around the same time district officials launched an energetic new marketing campaign designed to persuade anyone and everyone to move to Las Vegas to become a teacher.
“A bridge takes a long time to build,” said CCSD human resources chief Staci Vesneske. “We’re just starting on one side of the shore with some bricks and pieces of steel.”
The district hired 200 more teachers in May than it did during the same month last year, but teachers are leaving the district at an alarming rate.
More than 1,600 CCSD teachers quit the profession this past school year, up by about 600 over the past five years. Only around a third of those are due to retirements. Yearly resignations count for 6 percent of the total number of licensed teachers in the district.
Educators on the frontlines often say it’s the result of bad morale among those in the profession.
“This is the worst it’s been in all my years,” said Katie Decker, principal of Bracken and Long elementary schools.
“The amount of demands that are placed on them now, it’s a much tougher job than was placed on them years ago,” she said. “You gotta shift the culture.”
Decker, a nationally recognized principal known for her common sense leadership, took charge of Long this year as part of the district’s "school franchise" program. The elementary school is short eight full-time teachers going into this year, though long-term subs are lined up to fill the gaps for the time being.
Shortages are especially persistent at inner city schools like Long, where 76 percent of the student body is Latino and 77 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. At Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, near Nellis Air Force Base, 93 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The school is also short 20 full-time teachers, the worst shortage in the district. By comparison, earlier this year Canyon Springs High School had the worst shortage at around 10 vacant positions.
Vesneske attributes the shortage to an ever shrinking pool of teachers in California. That state produces a lot of teachers, but with a shortage growing there too, many are being snapped up before they have a chance to look elsewhere.
Fortunately for Nevada, lawmakers have made attempts to address the shortage. During this year’s legislative session, a number of education initiatives have included funding for professional development and programs to boost teacher recruitment and retention.
“My hope is that they put wind in the sails of our districts,” said Wakefield. “If we are going to make good on the investments we are making in education, they are done through the impact of our teachers in classrooms.”