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Teacher hiring down in districts

When your kids go back to school, they won't see many new teachers this year.
/ Source: PhillyBurbs.com

When your kids go back to school, they won't see many new teachers this year.

Teacher hiring is down in Eastern Montgomery County, and Central and Upper Bucks, with almost all area school districts hiring significantly fewer teachers than they did last year. Only one school district - Souderton, which opened a new high school - hired slightly more teachers this year than it did last year.

Local school officials attributed the trend to decreased teacher retirements and decreased student enrollment, which may be an echo of the burst of the real estate bubble and the fall of the economy. Pennridge Assistant Superintendent Bruce Bovard said, "We normally ended up hiring a lot. There was a crop of teachers that was hired based on growth and we're not having the growth we've had typically every year." The state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania State Education Association track teacher hiring statistics, but representatives said they do not yet have recent data to indicate whether the trend extends across the state.

Central Bucks School District hired 174 new teachers in the 2008-09 school year, and about half as many - 78 - for the 2009-10 school year. The district did not replace teachers who retired or resigned, and laid off 21 teachers. Superintendent N. Robert Laws said the teachers who were hired for this school year were hired to fill the place of other teachers who are out on leave, primarily maternity leave.

The district reduced its teaching staff by about 20 positions because enrollment is down from previous years and the teaching positions aren't needed. Laws said he expects enrollment to drop by 400-500 students this year, though he won't know the exact number until October.

Laws attributed the expected decline in enrollment to the burst in the real estate bubble.

"There was a time when we had 14,000 homes planned for this community. I would say those have been built out," he said. The district grew by about 8,000 students in the past 15 years.

"There's not a lot of land left. There's no speculation. The builders are not putting up spec homes, they're not risking, because they don't have a lot of money and they can't get loans. And maybe a third factor would be that people are sitting tight in their homes because they can't sell them. You don't have the migration."

North Penn School District hired 58 new teachers this year - 33 fewer than the previous year. District spokeswoman Christine Liberaski said the district did not create any new positions and actually reduced its teaching staff by almost 10 positions this year; the new hires are filling positions that were vacated by teachers who retired, resigned or are out on leave.

"It fluctuates every year. Numbers are up and down," Liberaski said. "There's no formula to figure out how many people will leave or how many people will stay, or how many people will be on maternity leave."

A lot of high school teachers were out on maternity leave for the 2008-09 school year and the school district had to hire people to fill in, Liberaski said. "When we get young teachers in like we did a few years ago, a couple years later, many of them are going to be out on maternity leave."

She said the number of teachers who retired or resigned may be lower this year because of the economy. Maybe people did not feel as comfortable retiring or looking for a new position.

The Upper Moreland Township School District hired 28 new teachers in 2008-09, and only three full-time teachers and two part-time teachers for the 2009-10 school year.

District human resources director Terry Hinterberger said the 2008-09 school year was a big year for hiring because the district had offered an early retirement incentive to teachers at the end of the 2007-08 school year and at least 20 teachers took the district's offer. She said, "It was part of our contract negotiations - to encourage senior, more costly teachers to retire so we could then replace them with teachers who obviously are lower on the salary schedule."

Hinterberger believes the early retirement incentive had a sort of ripple effect, causing a reduced number of retirements for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

"Any time you have a retirement incentive, I think you can expect at least two to three years of very few retirements because anybody who could go would have went when there was an incentive," she said.

Upper Moreland created a small number of new positions in the 2008-09 school year when it started a full-day kindergarten program; the district has not created any other new positions and has only hired teachers to replace others who retired, resigned or are out on leave.

Quakertown Community School District hired 47 new teachers in the 2008-09 school year, and only one new teacher for the 2009-10 school year. The school district had also offered an early retirement incentive in the 2007-08 school year and more than 40 teachers took the offer, so the new hires in 2008-09 were likely replacements for those who retired. The district's human resources director did not return a call Friday seeking comment about the drastic change.

Hinterberger said officials in her district didn't know the economy was going to go south when they offered the incentive.

"I don't think anybody knew the economy was going to go this way," she said.

Christina Kristofic can be reached at 215-345-3079 or ckristofic@phillyBurbs.com.