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District No. 1 facing teacher shortage

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Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:55 am

Williston Public School District No. 1 is looking for teachers, and the search is going down to the wire. Less than a month before school starts, the district is still looking for 18 teachers, 14 for elementary ages.

District No. 1 faces the same problems that many Williston government agencies are having. They can’t compete with the high wages of the oilfield, the reputation of a boomtown and the housing shortage.

District No. 1 pays a lower salary for first-year teachers than most schools in the area. A teacher in the school district will make at least $36,000. Once teacher contracts are negotiated the contract can be amended if the teacher will make more under the new contract.

In Tioga, where the teaching staff is full, the first year pay for teachers is $45,720. While the pay is higher than in Williston, local teachers say their benefits and long-term pay potential are better than what the smaller schools can pay.

Superintendent Viola LaFontaine said she felt the bad reputation of the boomtown was hurting the school district. 

She stressed that the Williston school district has great opportunities for teachers.

A major point hurting the recruiting effort for the school district is the housing shortage. LaFontaine said that the district has offered teacher positions to applicants, but the prospective teachers could not find housing.

The school district does has some apartments available. LaFontaine also wanted to send a message to the town that if anyone has  rooms available and would like to help with housing teachers, the school district is interested in the help.

What’s Being Done

At the beginning of the week, LaFontaine talked to the Education Standards and Practices Board, the government agency that gives out teacher licenses.

They have a policy called hard-to-fill positions. The policy is to help schools that are in the same situation as the Williston school district. One plan the school hopes to implement is bringing back retired teachers.

If a teacher has retired, he or she can come back to teach and it will not affect their retirement. Currently under state law, if a teacher works more than 600 hours a year, it will affect their retirement. 

On Aug. 14, the state will try to implement a policy where teachers can come back to teach at the elementary level, and their retirements will not be affected. If a teacher retired last year, he or she can come back this year and teach. The teachers will get a paycheck for teaching and still receive their retirement benefits. The policy is expected to pass.

LaFontaine said this week principals at the elementary schools will start to touch base with retired teachers and see if they would be interested in coming back to teach. 

Fourteen teachers have retired since last school year.

Another option is working with student-teachers. If the college the student-teacher is coming from agrees to let a teacher work full-time, it is state policy that the teacher can work under the close supervision of a teacher with a teacher license. The student-teacher will in effect be the day-to-day teacher while being supervised. 

After 10 weeks or whenever the school thinks the teacher is ready, the district can have the teacher take over the classroom.

The school district is also willing to help teachers who have a teacher’s license in other states become licensed in North Dakota.

If a teacher does not want to work full-time, he or she can find a position in the district to find them time in the classroom.

LaFontaine said the enrollment growth in Williston hasn’t really affected the teacher shortage. There are around 100 more students this year compared to last school year. In the 2013-14 school year, the school district had to hire 60 new teachers, so the situation has been worse in past periods. 

During the monthly school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, LaFontaine will address the teacher shortage to the board. 

Other issues on the agenda include discussion for girls’ fast-pitch softball and a report on the preliminary 2014-15 budget. The meeting will be held at the district office.

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