Competitive teacher pay is solution to state crisis

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Competitive teacher pay is solution to state crisis
Times West Virginian, Fairmont

The teacher shortage in West Virginia is at critical levels.

By last count, there are more than 300 vacant teaching positions statewide, which is stretching the pool of available teachers, especially in specialties and critical areas, such as special education, math and science.

The problem becomes compounded when an illness, medical leave from work or a home obligation keeps a teacher out of the classroom.

Superintendent of Marion County Schools Gary Price said the county is feeling the pinch when it comes to the availability of substitute teachers.

“I would say probably daily we have a situation where we might not have enough subs in a given area. Then, we actually have to have teachers cover during their planning period,” Price told the Times West Virginian. “They need to be able to grade the papers they have; they need to be able to plan for the next activity. So our first preference would be to have plenty of subs where people would never have to give up their planning period.”

But that’s a perfect-world scenario. While Marion County has a pretty good retention rate of teachers, more and more seem to be choosing careers outside of the classroom.

Teaching is a hard profession. It isn’t a paycheck but, rather, a calling that isn’t for the faint of heart. The pay isn’t very lucrative — a first-year teacher with no experience can expect to make only $33,000 in West Virginia. Considering that merely driving across the border to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia or Maryland could mean an extra $10,000 to $20,000 per year to teach for a little more of a commute, we can’t always blame those who choose the miles on their odometer.

And when would-be teachers leave the state or choose a different profession, it drains the school system of available substitute teachers.

We are pleased to see a bill advancing that would give more flexibility and additional benefits to retired teachers taking on substitute positions.

But realistically, we aren’t going to solve our substitute problem until we solve the primary problem — teacher pay.

The problem is further complicated by the state funding formula to the counties, which may require a reduction in force that eliminates positions for retiring teachers and even some active ones. Teachers aren’t paid enough as it is, and now we have to face the real likelihood that the existing pool of educators will shrink.

Competitive teacher pay is the solution to the crisis, despite the state’s growing budget gap. Anything less than that is pushing the problem down the road for the next session.