LUMBERTON — Four days into the new school year and the Public Schools of Robeson County is still trying to fill 80 teacher positions, among the highest number of vacancies the local system has seen in recent years as well as among the highest currently in the state.
According to Tasha Oxendine, communications officer for the district, Robeson County and other districts across the state are reporting higher-than-average teacher vacancies this year, which can be attributed to some degree to a spike in teacher resignations.
The previous two school years began with 40 to 50 teacher vacancies, according to Oxendine.
Resignations have also seen a spike since last year, with 125 before the 2013-14 school year and 200 before the start of the current school year. The retirement rate has remained steady.
Karen Chavis, a Human Resources specialist for the system, says that the county is trying to fill the vacancies through an online Human Resources Management System which searches for qualified applicants throughout the North Carolina Public School Application Network. Other ways of finding applicants have come from hosting job fairs within the district, and sending representatives to job fairs throughout the state, as well as Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and Virginia. She said the system has filled 185 certified teacher positions since May.
According to Chavis, the rise in resignations as well as the difficulty in recruiting is a statewide problem, and can be traced back to state budget cuts as well lower pay than is offered in other states.
“Budget cuts play a key role in recruiting teachers,” said Assistant Superintendent Linda Emanuel. “Since the 2008-09 school year, our district has seen $45 million in budget cuts. In 2004, we offered teachers a $4,500 sign-on bonus. This bonus was made available through low wealth and Title II funding. In 2004, PSRC received $6 million in Disadvantaged Supplemental Student Funding.”
Robeson County must also compete with other school districts within the state, some of which have higher tax bases and are therefore able to offer higher local supplements.
“Districts compete with other districts for teachers through sign-on bonuses and supplements. The Public Schools of Robeson County offers a 5 percent supplement to teachers,” said Erica Setzer, chief finance officer. “Hoke County pays a 6 percent supplement, but they also offer a $500 sign-on bonus from Title II funding. Counties such as Cumberland County have local funding to support increases in teacher recruitment.”
The number of vacancies means the system is relying more heavily on substitute teachers.
As a part of Obamacare, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health care for all full-time employees. If a substitute teacher works more than 30 hours a week, the district is required to consider that substitute a full-time employee.
According to Oxendine, Robeson County schools have not yet had to cut the hours of any substitute teachers to adhere to the new laws.
“We are monitoring it more closely,” Oxendine said. “We currently do not provide insurance to substitute teachers.”