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Teacher shortage squeezes districts

Sara Anderson talks to kindergarten students last fall about their pets during a reading class at Osakis Public School. Teaching positions in the K-6th grades have been easier to fill than grades at the high school level. (Osakis Review file photo)1 / 2
Randy Bergquist2 / 2

The math isn't adding up at many school districts in the area: Too many positions, not enough teachers.

With fewer people looking to become teachers, districts across the state are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit teachers.

Scott Heckert, human resource director for Alexandria School District 206, said with fewer applicants, the district has started to recruit in the surrounding states. However, because Minnesota is stricter when it comes to licensing, Heckert said it can be difficult for teachers from other states to obtain a Minnesota teacher's license.

"So far, though, we have been very fortunate to fill our positions with quality recruits," he said.

Area administrators agreed that middle and high school positions are tougher to fill.

Randy Bergquist, superintendent for the Osakis School District agreed: "I believe elementary grades are easier to find teachers for than the high school grades. It seems like there are more graduates in the elementary field than in high school."

However, Bergquist said that the high school is more specialized toward a subject area, therefore making it harder to find teachers. For example, he said that a social studies teacher can only teach in such areas as government, history and civics.

Superintendent for the Brandon-Evansville School District, Dean Yocum, also agreed, stating that traditionally, it has been easier to fill elementary positions.

"While I would say that still holds true, the number of applications has gone down," said Yocum. "In my former district, we had more than 80 applicants for an elementary position seven years ago, and last year when we posted an opening for an elementary position, we had less than 20 applicants."

As for whether or not there is one subject over another that is tougher to fill, Heckert said that business teachers are very difficult to find.

"The reason is because they can use their skill set to gain greater financial gains in other careers," he said.

The hardest to fill, however, are special education positions, according to local school leaders.

"Our need right now is special education, agriculture and social studies," said Bergquist.

Bergquist said that although the district doesn't offer any incentives such as sign-on bonuses, schools do have the flexibility to offer teachers credit who have years of experience if they come from another school district.

"For example, if a teacher worked at another district for five years, schools can give that teacher credit for up to five years and place them on that step on the salary schedule," said Bergquist.

Yocum said that teaching is a very rewarding profession, yet it can be challenging.

"It takes special people to do what teachers do day in and day out," said Yocum. "There is not an easy solution to the challenges schools are facing with staffing. And, unfortunately, I see schools struggling with teacher shortages for some time yet."

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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