District: Plenty of teachers

BY CLARK CAHILL | APRIL 21, 2009 7:30 AM

While some school districts in the country could have trouble keeping experienced instructors in the classroom over the next few years, Iowa City School District officials said they aren’t worried about the prospect.

The country could lose one-third of its most accomplished teachers to retirement in the next four years, according to a recent report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

The report suggests the problem could be aggravated by a high turnover ratio of new teachers, noting that one-third of first-year teachers leave the profession within five years. As a result, school districts could lose millions of dollars in recruiting and training costs.

Jim Pedersen, the Iowa City School District’s director of human resources, said the district continues to see a high number of qualified applicants each year. Its location near the UI campus makes the district an enticing place to work for many teachers, he said.

“We always hate to lose our veteran teachers,” Pedersen said. “But until we see a decline in the large number of applicants, we won’t view this as a problem.”

The district had more than 1,300 applications submitted for the 2008-09 school year, he said. Of that number, roughly 500 of the submissions were from teachers who had applied in previous years.
The only problem district officials face when recruiting new teachers is late resignation.

“If someone decides to retire late in the summer, it might be harder to get a good pool of candidates in certain areas like special education, math, or science,” Pedersen said.

The district saw a large decrease in early retirements, from 30 last year to only three this year. Pedersen said last year’s early retirement settlement — available to teachers who have worked in the district full-time for over 20 years — was the last chance for those who qualified to retire with a portion of wages and insurance benefits. This year’s early retirees will only receive a cash settlement.

Mary Mascher — a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Weber Elementary — is taking an early retirement this year, but she said she is not done working for the state. Mascher, a Democratic state representative, said she did not qualify for early retirement last year, but she is not concerned about the new policy.

“I will be able to spend more time in my Legislature job,” she said. “I’m not worried about not getting the insurance benefits from the district, because I will receive insurance from the state for my other job.”

Pedersen said an increase in retirements or leaves of absences could benefit the district due to the current economy, noting the empty positions will not be filled to help with budget cuts.

Jo Morgan, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Shimek Elementary, will retire this year after teaching for more than 35 years. Although she does not qualify for early retirement — she has only been in the district since 1992 — she wants to spend time focusing on her family.

But Morgan doesn’t deny the possibility of coming back to the classroom in the future.

“I still enjoy teaching, and I feel in tune with what is going on with the kids,” she said. “There are other things I may possibly pursue, but I’m not ruling out the potential to come back and teach.”

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