Panel to look at teacher shortage

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Rich Kronberg got a big raise 20 years ago when he moved from New York to Anchorage for a job as a special education teacher. If he moved back today, he'd get another.

At one of his old districts in Yonkers, N.Y., a starting teacher with no experience earns $40,000, Kronberg said. A teacher with 15 years in the system, a master's degree and 30 additional credits earns $85,000.

The highest paid Anchorage teachers make about $62,000, he said.

"I'm not a numbers person, but those numbers show we are no longer competitive," said Kronberg, president of NEA-Alaska, the statewide teachers union.

The House Special Committee on Education, headed by former teacher and Anchorage Republican Rep. Con Bunde, will take testimony this week on why Alaska faces a shortage of qualified teachers.

Alaska's public schools have about 8,100 teachers. The Alaska Teacher Placement Center helped fill 1,065 vacancies last year.

Finding and keeping teachers, especially those who teach math and special education, is a problem nationwide. Two months into the school year, the Alaska Teacher Placement Web site shows vacancies remaining for a special education teachers in Savoonga and Bethel, a reading specialist in Ketchikan and a third-grade teacher in Craig, to name a few.

Bunde acknowledges that Alaska is not as competitive as it was. But he wants to hear of ways to attract teachers other than money.

"Money isn't the only answer," he said. "If someone's a sun worshipper, there isn't enough money to make you live in 50 below."

But his committee is likely to hear that money is a consideration, if only to increase the pool of teaching candidates.

"It's really pretty simple," said Roger Norris-Tull, dean of the School of Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "Adjusted for inflation, we are 40th out of 50 for beginning teachers."

Other states have responded to the teacher shortage by raising salaries and offering incentives to recruit teachers, such as moving expenses, bonuses and even help in buying homes.

The committee took testimony in Kodiak on Monday, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and in Anchorage today, and will be in Kotzebue on Wednesday. The committee will take testimony via teleconference from around the state from 6 to 7:30 p.m. tonight.

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