A school year approaches, Janesville working to fill teacher openings

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Nick Crow
Thursday, August 13, 2015

JANESVILLE — With school fast approaching, the Janesville School District is working to fill 30 open teaching positions.

The number of openings is not unusual, and it's all part of the annual routine before a new school year, said Steve Sperry, director of administration and human resources for the district.

"What we really have right now is we have a total of 30 positions that are unfilled at this date," Sperry said. "Will we have those positions filled? We'll have all of our positions filled. It may not be that we have hired a contracted, certified, staff member. We may have a long-term substitute with qualifications starting out the school year. But we should have all of our classes filled."

The number of openings this year is comparable to years past, he said. School starts Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Sperry said positions in special education, technical education and English language learning are the hardest to fill.

"We have 109 total postings for certified staff to date," Sperry said. "We have completed hiring of 79 positions. Of the 79, there was 67 who were external candidates, and 12 were filled with internal."

"So what happens is you have the 109, but 12 are internal so we still have another 12 to fill," he said. "The 109 is a bit misleading overall because of the snowballing it may cause from people moving within the district."

Robin Fox, associate professor and associate dean in the college of education and professional studies at UW-Whitewater, said the education college enrollment dipped 20 percent from 413 to 331 students in 2012-13. College of education enrollment last year was 345 students, about 16 percent below 2011-12 levels.

Fox said she believes the reason some districts have trouble filling positions is because of Act 10, which removed the ability of some unions to negotiate for anything but base wage increases based on inflation.

"One of the reasons some districts are having difficulty filling vacancies is because of the changes that happened as a result of Act 10," Fox said. "With the disbanding of the union, school districts/boards have much more flexibility when it comes to salaries and employee benefits."

"In the past, I think people in education we put up on a little bit higher pedestal," Sperry said. "Now with all the things that are happening to teachers, the mentality is 'I'm not sure if I want to be a part of that right now.'

"To me, I think it's an excellent time for people to go into education, but with some of the negativity that's been associated with it, I can see the hesitancy of people wanting to go into education," Sperry said.

Fox said high-demand positions and those with fewer students in college programs have always been difficult for schools to fill, but Act 10 has eliminated a lot of loyalty in school districts.

"Districts with more money can offer higher salaries, and the result can be a teacher leaving one district to go to another, possibly neighboring district, for a higher salary," Fox said.

"We have a fair number of students (at UWW) who receive their license from Wisconsin and then either move back (home) or move to Illinois to teach, many times because the salaries are higher or that is where they are from," she said.

Sperry doesn't believe salary is the only reason people move between district, but he does believe Act 10 has discouraged people from choosing teaching as a career.

"You have to look at the whole picture when comparing yourself to other districts," Sperry said. "It's not just salary, but what are they doing for benefits."

The implementation of Act 10 hasn't increased the number of vacancies the district faces at the beginning of each school year, Sperry said.

"I don't know if there's competition per se, but there's going to be people wanting to relocate," he said. "It's important to look at why they want to locate in a particular area. What I find is when people are leaving, they aren't necessarily leaving because they aren't happy, but most individuals are leaving because of some other factor."

Sperry said he believes spouses' jobs, family and shorter commutes are why people often move.

"I think Janesville has always been recognized as 'come to Janesville, we've got a good community, we've got a good school district, it's a good place to work,"" Sperry said. "Then you start putting in some of those other factors because for some people it's not just about salary, it's about benefits, it's about the culture. That's where districts are trying to establish those cultures and a work environment that's conducive."

"This is normal," he said. "From this point all the way to the start of school, we'll be working on filling open positions."

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