Harford County Public Schools officials have dual goals of reducing by 10 percent the number of open teaching positions, especially those in subject areas that are often difficult to fill, by the start of the next school year, as well as hiring more minority teachers.
Although non-white minorities make up about 34 percent of the HCPS student body, minority teachers are less than 6 percent, according to current statistics on the school system's employment and its state demographic profile.
HCPS faces a series of challenges to meet teacher recruitment and retention goals, including the lowest number of college students majoring in education — nationwide — in 45 years, with fewer black and Hispanic students expressing an interest in education compared to white students, a massive drop in applications to HCPS, less money in the human resources budget for recruiting and a lack of competitive pay for teachers, school officials say.
"We're not as diverse as we'd like to be, but I'd daresay that's not for lack of effort," Board of Education member Tom Fitzpatrick said during a recent board meeting, when human resources staff presented their annual report on employee recruitment and retention.
About 9 percent of the total 4,952-person workforce at HCPS identifies as a member of a minority group — African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Filipino, Native American or Alaska Native, or biracial or multiracial — according to the report, which covered the period from Oct. 16, 2015 to Oct. 15, 2016.
The report indicates 5.7 percent of the 2,937 teachers are minorities; 19.1 percent of all teachers are male, compared to 89.1 percent female.
Racial and geographic divide
Schools in the southern end of Harford County have the greatest number of teachers and administrators of color. There are 108 teachers of color spread throughout all 22 schools in the southern tier and 18 administrators of color, according to the report.
The northern end of the county has 14 teachers and four administrators of color, for 11 schools, and the central portion has 44 teachers and 14 administrators of color within 21 schools, according to the data.
Thirty-six percent of northern schools and 24 percent of central schools have no teachers of color, and 64 percent of northern schools and 71 percent of central have no administrators of color, according to the report.
"We believe in the power of all employees, regardless of position, to present positive role models for our students," Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent for human resources, told board members.
There is greater diversity among the student population.
Out of 37,448 HCPS students, 65.4 percent are white, 18.3 percent are black, 6.5 percent are Latino, 3.2 percent are Asian, two tenths of a percent are American Indian or Alaska natives, two-tenths are Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders and 5.8 percent are biracial or multiracial, according to the 2016 Maryland Report Card website.
Human resources staff have been using multiple methods to recruit teachers of all races, such as visits to colleges and universities — historically-black colleges and universities are included in that group — recruitment events in Harford County, throughout Maryland and out of state in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia, recruiting from a pool of HCPS interns and promoting working in the school system through social media.
"Establishing ourselves as an employer of choice is a top prioity of the HR department," Shannon Hagan, a human resources staffing specialist, told school board members.
Shrinking applicant pool
The school system hired 508 new employees for the 2015-2016 school year, and 286 were new teachers; 9.1 percent of the new teachers were people of color, while 15 percent of all new hires were people of color, according to the report.
"The pool of teachers of color has become more narrow . . . there is no indication that this trend will improve in the near future," said Barbara Valentine, assistant supervisor of staff management.
She noted the percentage of college and university students majoring in education "has reached its lowest point in 45 years."
About 95 percent of white college graduates who majored in education are interested in teaching, compared to 90 percent of Hispanic graduates and 76 percent of black graduates, according to the report.
The number of overall applications for HCPS jobs dropped, from the 2014-2015 school year to the 2015-2016 school year. There were 17,403 total applications two years ago, compared to 13,611 last year.
The school system fielded 3,220 applications for certificated teaching positions in 2014-15, which dropped by nearly 300 to 2,932 applications last year, according to the report.
"The number of candidates applying for positions over the past year has decreased substantially," Valentine said. "This is consistent with nationwide trends."
Retention of teachers is becoming an issue, too, for white and minority faculty members, although HCPS still has a strong retention rate, officials said.
The school system had an 89.7 percent retention rate for its overall workforce for the 2015-2016 school year and a 90.3 percent retention rate for teachers, according to the report.
Valentine said HCPS retains "a highly-qualified and competent teacher workforce."
The greatest percentage of teachers fell in the age range of 31 to 50 years old, with 30.2 percent age 31 to 40 and 27.9 percent age 41 to 50 years old.
Teachers between the ages of 21 and 30 made up 23.3 percent of the group, 14.8 percent were between the ages of 51 and 60, and 3.8 percent were 61 and older, according to the report.
The average teacher had 13.3 years of service with the school system, and 10.2 percent of the teachers were eligible for retirement as of last October.
The report indicates 37.7 percent of teachers, the largest chunk, had 16 or more years of experience. More than 10 percent had one year or less of experience.
There were 583 employees who separated from HCPS, 286 of them teachers. Eighty-two teachers did not disclose a reason for their separation. The next-largest number, 61, listed retirement as their reason.
Many others listed reasons such as moving to another community, responsibilities at home or working in a school system in another Maryland county or another state.
Six teachers said they were "dissatisfied with employment," and five listed salary as their primary reason, according to the report.
HCPS started the current academic year with 33 openings, a figure that had dropped to 25 vacancies as of Jan. 31, according to Valentine.
Twenty "provisional" teachers have been hired this year, compared to 21 last year and 17 the year before — Valentine noted one provisional teacher was hired in 2012.
"We're fighting trends throughout the state and the nation," school board President Nancy Reynolds said of the recruitment and retention situation.
Two members of the community who attended the Feb. 13 board meeting for the recruitment and retention presentation and have been working with HCPS officials to increase diversity in the workforce, gave HCPS staff credit for their efforts, though.
Phillip Hunter, of Bel Air, who is black and participated in the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Ala., said after the meeting "it seems like they're trying to do something positive in terms of recruitment."
Larry Diggs, of Bel Air South, is also black and is a retired New York State employee — his service to the Empire State included working as an equal employment opportunity director.
"They're persevering, and they're making good strides in making a diverse educational community here in Harford County," Diggs said.