Competing for teachers amid a growing statewide and national shortage, Anne Arundel County must do more -- and pay more -- to recruit and retain the best and the brightest, a recruitment official for the county school system told the school board yesterday.
High turnover rates, along with widespread retirement among baby boom-era teachers, were noted as opportunities for teachers entering the profession to pick and choose the best offers.
"We're dealing with a very sophisticated market," said Oscar Davis, teacher recruitment coordinator for Anne Arundel schools. "They want specifics about the job -- 'What courses will I be teaching? What is the climate of the school like?' "
Davis said the biggest barrier in attracting teachers to the school system is low salaries. He urged board members to consider increasing pay for beginning teachers.
"Out of 24 school districts, we're number 18 in salary," Davis said. "It does matter, and puts us at a competitive disadvantage with a number of neighboring school districts."
Anne Arundel pays beginning teachers $27,083, while Montgomery County has the top starting salary in the state, at $31,600.
In addition to pushing for a salary increase for new teachers, Davis told board members that recruiters are working on a number of initiatives designed to find and keep quality teachers.
They include signing bonuses, the development of business partnerships to waive new teachers' apartment security deposits, reimbursement for moving expenses, and interest-free loans that would be paid back through payroll deduction.
Davis suggested hiring "mentor teachers" whose sole responsibility would be to support new teachers in their first years.
"Statistics indicate that if you can keep new teachers for the first two years, they're more likely to stay and not experience burnout," he said.
School officials said they hired 600 teachers for this school year and plan to hire more than 700 next year.
In recent years, the county system has put more effort into marketing itself to teacher candidates, through a recruitment video and other promotional materials.
"It's not enough to simply assess the candidates to see if they're good enough to join us," Davis said. "We have to convince them to join us."
"All of this is about trying to market the system," he said. "We're saying, 'Hey, come take a look, we think you'll like what you see.' "
Davis also emphasized the need for a larger recruiting staff, including a recruitment and retention coordinator. He did not know how much the positions would cost.
County school officials said the recruiting staff has not grown in three decades, yet the number of job fairs that recruiters participate in has nearly doubled from 45 to 85 in the past few years.
"Recruitment is a year-round effort," Davis said, noting that in the past most teacher recruiting was done in the late spring and summer.
"We found that customer service is the key; if we can make that contact and maintain it, we stand a much better chance," he said.