COMPTON — With the start of classes three weeks away, school officials are scrambling to replace 154 teachers who resigned in a staff exodus that, officials acknowledged, is one of the worst the Compton district has had.
"We are in trouble," said Joseph D. Simmons, director of personnel services for the Compton Unified School District. "I won't deny that, but I don't think we need to panic. We have been in this shape before, and we have been able to survive."
After a bitter strike three years ago, the district lost about 116 teachers but filled the vacancies, Simmons said. Last year, there were 50 to 60 teacher departures, including retirements, he said.
As of last week, Simmons had hired 81 replacements and is conducting four to five interviews every day, he said. School will open Sept. 11.
"I still believe we have time to get them filled," he said. "People are coming in every day, and we have national ads running."
Teacher union officials in Compton attributed the large number of resignations, which represent almost 13% of the district's 1,185-member teaching staff, to low pay and poor working conditions. The district and the Compton Education Assn. (CEA) have reached an impasse in contract talks.
Working conditions are not the issue, district officials insisted, because most of the departing teachers have been lured to Los Angeles Unified, where a teacher strike this spring resulted in a 24% pay increase spread over the next three years.
"I knew we would have an exodus," Simmons said. "Once Los Angeles approved that large salary increase, certainly we were going to lose people."
'Reason Is Money'
"The reason is money; it's as pure and simple as that," school Trustee Kelvin Filer said of the teacher flight to Los Angeles. "Several (departing) teachers have come up to me and said how they enjoyed teaching in Compton, but their decision to leave was purely a financial one."
A starting teacher in Compton, under the union's expiring contract, is paid slightly more than $23,000. Starting pay in Los Angeles is $27,000, according to Wiley Jones, executive director of the CEA. Maximum pay in Compton is $38,000, in Los Angeles $49,000, Jones said.
The district is "pulling on all its sources" to replace resigning teachers, Simmons said. Besides running national ads, officials are contacting colleges and universities around the country. Even before the Los Angeles flight began this year, the district created a teacher intern program with Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Long Beach, under which college graduates still working toward teaching credentials can be hired as full-time teachers.
"I have a lot of applications from the Philippines," Simmons said last week. "If I have to, I'm going to turn to that."
Will Rely on Subs
If the recruiting drive falls short, the district will rely on substitute teachers during the first weeks of school, he said. Simmons insisted, however, that the district will find a full-time teacher for every class and will not, as teacher union representatives have suggested, combine classes and cause overcrowding.
Many teachers, he said, agree to be put in substitute teacher pools in other districts, with the understanding that they will be hired permanently if a job becomes available in the first few weeks of September.
When they do not get hired permanently in another district, Simmons said, every year many of those teachers come to Compton and take permanent jobs.
In the case of a district as large as Los Angeles, he said, the substitute pool can have up to 500 teachers.
Compton, which has about 26,000 students and is one of the poorest communities in the area, has always had a hard time recruiting teachers, particularly bilingual teachers, who are in demand throughout the Southwest, Simmons and other officials said.
Like several other districts in the area, Compton has teachers from Spain that it pairs with Spanish-speaking students. This year, 11 teachers from Spain will be teaching in Compton. About 20 Canadian teachers who have been in Compton schools the last two years will also be returning.