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After 10-Year Glut, Teachers Discover They're in Demand : Schools Resort to Sales Pitches to Cover Growing Shortage

June 09, 1985|ELAINE WOO and STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writers

When Jane Loomis graduated from college with a teaching degree in 1978, the job outlook was depressing. There were too many teachers and not enough jobs.

"It was either wait tables for the rest of my life or leave the state," said Loomis, a reading specialist. So she moved to Idaho, where there was a demand for specialized instructors, and worked there for a few years.

Now she is back in her hometown, Long Beach, and will earn a master's degree as a reading specialist this fall from Cal State Long Beach.

She is looking for a teaching job again. But this time around she won't have to look far.

Teacher Job Fair

A total of 128 school districts, including 43 from Los Angeles County, sent recruiters to a statewide teacher job fair at the university this spring. Their eagerness to recruit was all the evidence Loomis needed of the new demand for teachers.

"It was thrilling," said Loomis, 32. "I was feeling kind of dejected about my prospects, but I don't feel that way anymore. (Seeing the demand) made you feel that after all the time and effort you went through to be a teacher, it's going to pay off."

After a decade-long glut, however, growing enrollments, aging teaching staffs and a disdain for teaching as a profession are causing a shortage of teachers once again. A mad scramble for qualified instructors is occurring here and in other parts of the country, and educators predict that the problem will grow more severe before it gets better.

According to a recent Rand Corp. study, by 1988 there will be enough new teachers to satisfy only 80% of the country's demand. State education officials predict that California alone will need 110,000 new teachers over the next decade.

Thousands of Vacancies

The short-term picture is not much brighter. The giant Los Angeles Unified School District needs 2,500 teachers by September. Hundreds of vacancies exist in other parts of the county, in particular in Long Beach, Whittier, the East San Gabriel Valley and Inglewood.

Even districts that are not in trouble yet say it's only a matter of time before the shortage hits them.

"It is definitely a buyer's market right now. Teachers looking for new jobs are in the driver's seat," said Warren Peace, a former assistant principal at La Serna High School in Whittier, who retired early to direct the Whittier Union High School District's teacher recruiting efforts. "We've got to go out and tell those new graduates why this is the world's best district."

"It's not easy, but we've got to use every trick--and money isn't always the key factor," said Peace, 60, who started in the district three decades ago as a science teacher. "Morale, employee relations and benefits all play into the equation. The days of waiting for new teachers to come to a district with their hat in hand begging for a job are over."

Brochures, Sales Pitches

In Whittier, there are 40 openings next fall at the district's five high schools and one continuation school. Down the road in Cerritos, the ABC Unified School District expects to hire 45 new teachers by September. And in Long Beach, where about 1,500 new, mostly minority students are expected to enter the district next year, about 60 teachers are needed.

"The pool of available teachers is just not as deep as it once was," said Robert Grossman, spokesman for the county superintendent of schools' office in Downey. "Districts are going back to all those things they used to do--brochures, cross-country scouting trips and sales pitches. Marketing is now a top priority in many districts."

Some are searching in other states and even in other countries. The Long Beach Unified School District, for instance, sent a team to Vancouver, British Columbia, in April and interviewed more than 100 candidates there.

In other districts, special inducements are being offered to attract recruits. For instance, most districts give transferring teachers a maximum of five years of credit for previous experience, forcing teachers with more experience to take a salary cut if they want to be hired. Now the Los Angeles Unified School District is offering full credit for previous experience, recruitment director Michael Acosta said. The Whittier Union High School District is doing the same.

'A Big Plus'

"It is a big plus," said Bill Lawson, president of the Whittier School Employees Assn. "It gives a teacher a chance to come to this district without being penalized."

Although the state Legislature has provided the funds to increase starting salaries in most districts to at least $18,000 a year, some districts are still handicapped by unattractively low pay. With a beginning salary of $15,760, new teachers in the Compton Unified School District, for instance, are among the lowest paid in the county. Two years ago, before the state subsidy, starting instructors in Compton received $14,100 a year.

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