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[whitespace] School Daze

Sunnyvale School District boosting salaries, slashing budgets in order to hire teachers. However, it's still difficult to remain competitive

Sunnyvale--It's a seller's market in the education world as Sunnyvale schools attempt to stay competitive with other local schools by filling large numbers of positions with falling numbers of applicants.

This intracounty competition has led to increasing salaries and severe budget cuts within the Sunnyvale School District, which needs to fill 35 teacher positions by next fall.

Sunnyvale joined 31 other Santa Clara County school districts at the county's annual Teacher Recruitment Fair on March 10, where salaries were up, but attendance was down.

"We saw fewer folks [at the fair] this year," says Shelly James, Sunnyvale School District's director of human resources, "probably 60 percent of what we saw in the last three years. I think it's reflective of fewer people going into education. Particularly in this area it's difficult [for teachers] to make ends meet."

Each district attending the recruitment fair tried its best to stand out among the competing districts. These days they need something special to woo the decreasing number of young people entering the teaching profession. Recently, this competition--not only with other districts but also higher paying jobs in other nearby industries--has led to skyrocketing salaries.

The Sunnyvale School District recently decided to raise teacher salaries an unprecedented 10 percent across the board for the coming school year. The starting salary for accredited teachers is now $40,008--compared to $23,500 in 1995.

Despite the decreased attendance, things were still busy at the fair, which was held in the county office of education.

Hundreds of school administrators, human resource officials and potential teachers swarmed through two large rooms filled with wall to wall booths. Each district maintained its own booth decorated with colorful computer graphics, big banners, school pennants, paper cutouts, collages and photographs of happy, smiling students. Tables overflowed with packets of information about town demographics, salary tables and benefit packages.

Scores of potential teachers, mostly young women, wandered from booth to booth surveying the scene. School officials led candidates to small rooms, upper floors, or any reasonably quiet corner, they could find in the humming building, to conduct on-the-spot interviews, in hopes to snagging the "good ones" before other schools got a hold of them.

However, even if schools recruit these coveted teachers, they must generate the funding to pay them the increasingly rising salaries. And that funding comes from others sources within the school district.

"We're looking at a $2.1 million budget cut to make up for the salary increases," James says. "Cuts are going to be across the board. Program managers were asked to look at what [their programs] would be like at 88 percent of the current budget."

James complains state funding in the Sunnyvale area is too low to keep up with Silicon Valley salaries.

"It's going to be an ongoing problem for us to retain teachers," she says. "If the state legislature was looking at a ratio funding model that takes into account cost of living, we would have an easier time. There needs to be some kind of formula that gives the higher rent areas more attention."

Until that happens, Santa Clara County schools have to make the best of a bad situation.

The Sunnyvale School District offered 12 contracts at the fair that remain contingent on verification of credentials and reference checks--they still have a long way to go before next fall.

During the current school year, one full-time teaching position has remained unfilled. According to James, the vacancy has proved to be a major problem. Several different teachers have taken control of the stray class throughout the year. Sometimes substitute teachers were brought in, but often times administrators would take over--forced to leave their other important school duties behind.

Officials expect the current unfavorable conditions for area schools to only get worse.

The county office of education predicts that 30 percent of California teachers will retire in the next 10 years. They also say that the county needs 400 new teachers per year--for at least the next eight years--to meet projected growth.

Something has to give. For the time being, that something is funding for school programs.
Daniel Hindin

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Web extra to the March 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro.

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