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State of North Dakota Faces Teacher Shortage Without A Hike In Salaries

 

By Kathie Denison

CANDO, N.D. -- In response to recent letters criticizing a pay raise going to North Dakota teachers, I would like to add my thoughts in favor of the pay raise going directly to teachers. I am not in favor of this money being used for any other purpose, even if it has to pass through the local administrative office to get to the teachers.

North Dakota has the dubious distinction of being second-lowest in the nation for teacher's salaries. We have been able to get away with this for a very long time, but the time already has arrived when we are facing a teacher shortage, not only in North Dakota but also across the nation, and it only is going to get worse in the next decade.

Not only are there fewer college students entering the education field, but they certainly are not going to want to teach in North Dakota with our current salary levels. There are a lot of baby boomer couples who have been teaching for a long time, especially in our small-town school districts. With the advent of early retirement enticements to peel off teachers at the high end of the local salary schedule, we're going to see a flood of couples retiring in the coming years. Some of that already has started.

Whereas these kinds of teaching couples have, in the past, been able to settle down in our small towns and earn a decent living with two teaching salaries -- please keep in mind that boomers did not have the exorbitant college expenses in the¤'50s and¤'60s that our current collegians face -- in many, many communities, retiring boomers will mean two teaching vacancies that will be increasingly difficult to fill.

We already have lost some talented beginning teachers in our area because they could not afford to teach and pay off thousands and thousands of dollars in college loans at the same time, especially if they were single.

Our daughter started teaching three years ago in the Twin Cities area with a basic teaching degree. Her starting salary was more than $9,000 higher than a beginning teacher's salary in our area and was several thousand higher than most North Dakota teachers who have been teaching for 25 years. Plus, when she receives her master's degree in education this May, her salary will jump $5,000.

Isn't it funny that not one of us, myself included, dares complain about bills from the doctor, lawyer, accountant, pharmacist, plumber or electrician? We are willing to shell out $20,000 to $40,000 for a new car or pickup and pay interest on top of that for several years.

But when it comes to paying the college-trained educators who have dedicated their professional lives to teaching, shaping, helping, befriending, mentoring our children every day for up to 13 years, they're not supposed to be paid a competitive wage. They don't even have year-round employment.

My husband and I are former teachers, and there are many people working in our small community who once taught at the school, but who, even years ago before inflation hit, left the teaching profession for jobs that paid better.

The fact is this: North Dakota is not going to be able to hire decent teachers, any teachers, to replace the soon-to-retire boomer teachers, who are legion in this state.

We North Dakotans keep saying how proud we are of the good education our students receive. Well, it's time to put our money where our mouths are, because today's college students face a different financial reality than most teachers of the past generation. They know what almost every other career pays, and they don't have to -- and won't -- put up with the menial teaching salaries that have been a North Dakota tradition.

Wake up, North Dakota.

I am in favor of a teacher hiring bonus, though not the $10,000 signing bonus that the Legislature was considering. (Can't you imagine the hard feelings among veteran faculty?) But, perhaps, think about a "bonus" in the form of a waiver of part of a college loan per year for staying in the school system -- up to five years, or something like that.

Denison is co-publisher of Towner County Record-Herald.

April 23, 2001