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Teacher drain to strain system

Administrators also will be among the thousands retiring by 2005. Finding and training replacements will be daunting.

Pinellas Superintendent Howard Hinesley doesn't like what he sees.

It's a list _ a long list _ of all of the assistant principals, principals and district administrators who will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

Number of names: 311. Add that to the number of Pinellas teachers who could retire by 2005 _ 2,295, 30 percent of the district's teaching staff _ and the picture is grim.

"I am worried about it," Hinesley said. "We have to do more to make sure that the good things we have going on here, we sell."

School districts around the state are bracing for an escalating number of retirements in the next 10 years as more educators reach 30 years of service and participate in lucrative retirement plans that require them to leave five years after signing up.

To lure and keep teachers, districts are resorting to aggressive measures. They are traveling more often and farther distances to recruit. They are offering incentive packages, such as helping new teachers find apartments where the first month's rent is free. They are offering extra training days and peer mentors for support.

Pinellas is creating a Professional Development and Improvement Network to nurture, train and steer teachers toward administration. The initiative is still being developed; it is set to begin this fall.

"We've got to keep them," said Martha O'Howell, Pinellas' director of human resources. "We have to provide opportunities for professional growth. It's going to be a top-down and bottom-up effort."

Turnover is nothing new in public schools.

Teachers and administrators move. They take leaves of absence. They get sick. They retire. And new teachers are hired. They either stay in the classroom or are guided into vacant administrative positions.

The next 10 years will be worse than ever. Several factors will make it difficult for school districts to make up for the brain drain of teachers and administrators:

One-third of the state's teachers were born between 1947 and 1954, which means they are at or nearing retirement age. To replace them, state officials estimate that as many as 8,000 new teachers will be needed every year for the next 20 years.

Every year, 6,500 graduate from the state's education colleges. To replace retiring teachers and account for enrollment growth, the state will need 10,000 new teachers every year.

Fewer teachers hired today commit their entire careers to education, especially in the same district or state. Those who do often retire at a younger age than their predecessors.

To replace the administrators who are leaving, school districts often tap into their teacher ranks. It's a hard sell: In many counties, including Pinellas, teachers with more than 10 years of experience wouldn't earn that much more by becoming assistant principals.

State officials aren't sure what year will be the worst _ they're just hoping that everyone who is eligible to retire doesn't leave at one time.

"It's something we need to work on to keep it from becoming a crisis," said JoAnn Carrin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

The first step is finding people to hire.

Last year, state Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher traveled to New England, trying to entice prospective teachers to sunny Florida. A Citrus County principal traveled to Montana, as did a team from Pinellas.

In Citrus, officials expect 21 administrators to retire in the next few years, along with 120 teachers and 120 support personnel. That's a huge chunk in a district with about 2,000 employees.

Edward Poore, Hernando County schools' director of human resources, expects three of 18 principals to retire in the next five years. That number, he says, his district could handle. If seven or eight retired, coupled with dozens of teachers, that would be problematic.

His staff is advertising on the Internet, raising teacher salaries for those with midlevel experience and taking more recruiting trips.

"I don't want to say I am not concerned _ I am _ but I think we have qualified people being trained," Poore said.

Pasco County officials are doing more traveling, too, with 80 to 100 people retiring every year and several new schools being built. They are considering giving out goodie bags to teachers who sign, filled with items such as grocery store gift certificates.

Judith Kistler, director of human resources, said the district is making sure to move enough people through administrative training just in case. As many as 25 principals may be needed in the next five years.

"Right now, we think our pools are fairly healthy in terms of taking care of the needs that we have," Kistler said. "We're trying to keep people on track."

Pinellas has trained a group of about 25 principals to travel on recruiting missions, rather than just sending human resources representatives. Like others, the district's recruiters are taking more trips and traveling longer distances.

A minority recruitment specialist visited more universities than he had in the past and took several principals with him.

Soon, potential teachers will be able to fill out applications on the district's Web site. Human resources officials and principals will be trained to monitor those applications. The district is making a concerted effort to hire more of its interns from the University of South Florida.

Once they're hired, Pinellas plans to do a better job of identifying upwardly mobile teachers who want to land administrative jobs one day, O'Howell said. With detailed lists predicting which educators might retire, the district is trying to gear its training to fill those holes. In some key posts, such as director of pupil assignment, the district will hire "interns" to shadow the veteran for 10 months to a year.

The district also needs to make sure that salaries continue to improve at all levels, said Rob McMahon, president of the teachers union.

It would help to make it more attractive to become an assistant principal, with higher raises or other benefits, to offset the hassles of discipline and angry parents, he said. One way to do that is to allow assistant principals to work 11 months rather than 10, an idea Hinesley proposed last week.

"Right now, there isn't a whole lot of incentive to take that first step toward principalship," McMahon said. "It's not a glamor job."

Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers' Association, said that teacher recruitment and retention boils down to feeling appreciated. Administrators must be trained to provide teachers all of the support they need, which includes improving the public's perception of public schools.

"It really ought to be addressed as a crisis," Moore said. "It has to be the kind of place that's wonderful to work. Everyone needs to feel appreciated."