Senate takes step to ease teacher shortage

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- State senators took another step Wednesday toward helping school districts fill teaching vacancies.

The Finance Committee approved Senate Bill 149, allowing teachers with out-of-state teaching certificates to immediately begin working here, as long as they obtain Alaska credentials within three years.

The bill also allows districts to hire retired teachers while they continue to collect retirement benefits. The rehired teachers could not add to their retirement benefits and would not be eligible for tenure.

The bill also sweetens medical benefits at retirement for current Alaska teachers. Presently, retired teachers receive 100 percent medical benefits when they turn 65. The bill lowers that to 60, or immediately for teachers who put in 25 years on the job.

''We are responding to Alaska's teacher shortage with three initiatives -- quicker recognition of certified teachers from other states, incentives for the reemployment of retired teachers, and better medical benefits,'' said Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, the bill sponsor.

The bill is the second aimed at teacher shortages to move in the Senate this week. On Monday, the Senate passed legislation allowing districts to hire people with specific subject matter expertise to start teaching school without a teaching certificate as long as they were enrolled in an education master's degree program.

Paul Roetman, a Leman aide, said Alaska's school districts began the year school year with 88 teaching vacancies. The turnover rate is up to 1,100 teachers annually, he said.

Under Leman's bill, qualified out-of-state teachers would be issued a preliminary teacher certificate. Within a year, they would be required to pass a competency exam. Preliminary teacher certificates would last for three years and could not be renewed. That means out-of-state teachers would be required to complete required Alaska studies and other course work to keep their jobs.

The bill prohibits the hiring of former teachers who participated in retirement incentive programs. The bill also contains a sunset clause that will ban the hiring of retired teachers after three years unless the Legislature extends the program.

Education officials welcomed the bill.

Melissa Hill of the Alaska Teacher Placement Program, the state's clearinghouse for recruiting statewide, said Alaska's problems are part of a nationwide trend.

''It's only going to get worse before it gets better,'' she said, speaking by teleconference from Oklahoma, where she is on a recruiting trip.

Other states are offering more lucrative incentives to recruit teachers, such as hiring bonuses and forgiveness of loans.

''Any incentive we can do would help,'' she said.

Anchorage School Board member Debbie Ossiander said her district faces acute shortages of special education teachers. The district has had to contract with a private firm to provide special education services, Ossiander said, and tapping retired teachers would help.

Bruce Johnson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development, said Alaska has become less competitive in attracting teachers.

''This makes good sense and eliminates tremendous barriers we've had to this point,'' he said.

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