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Rewarding but difficult: PAISD one of many districts with teacher shortages

Despite a significant raise in salaries for starting teachers announced this school year, Port Arthur Independent School District is one of many districts that fell short in filling all open positions.

Kathy Ludrow, executive director of human resources for PAISD, brought the shortage of teachers concern to the attention of the school board at a routine meeting on Aug. 22.

“I shared with the board of trustees the fact that we continuously are searching for highly qualified teachers,” she said. “There is a shortage of teachers in America. There’s a shortage of teachers in Texas. The teaching profession is not as highly esteemed as it once was. I think that comes from the fact that there are a lot of other professions that require similar educational requirements where people can make a lot more money.”

Ludrow said for the past seven or eight years the district has had the problem of identifying enough teachers to fill all the open positions. This year, the district has left an estimated 100 spots vacant.

“We have enough people filling the positions but not all of them are what we consider to be highly qualified,” she said. “That means they have their certification, they have their degree and are tenured employees who have been teaching for a number of years.”

Ludrow said the shortages are mainly in subjects such as math, science and special education.

“Those are areas where we really struggle, as most districts do,” she said. “Teaching is a rewarding career but it’s a difficult career, especially in our area.”

Ludrow said she feels that the shortage in the mid-county area comes from the other workforce options such as working at the refineries.

“People can go to the refinery and not have a degree and still make a good salary,” she said. “

The short-term fix Ludrow said is hiring substitutes, who sometimes develop into certified teachers.

“We sometimes have to rely on substitute teachers, people who have 60 or more college credit hours who come through a temporary agency to service subs until we can get positions filled,” she said. “We aren’t putting people in the classroom that don’t at least come with some college background. These individuals, for whatever reasons, have not gotten their degrees completed, so we use them as long-term subs until we can get those positions filled.”

Ludrow said the long-term solution is to continue raising the benefits allotted to teachers in the district, providing professional development and harboring a conducive environment.

“One of the unique things we offer is that we are the only district in the region to pay into social security,” Ludrow said. “We try to make sure we’ve got professional development opportunities for our employees so they can continue to become more qualified by attending training courses and seminars.

“The best thing that we can do is make the environment in which they work to be as conducive to learning as possible. Our kids will suffer if we don’t have qualified teachers in these positions, so we are doing everything we can to get those folks in.”