Pay hikes solve the teacher shortage


Every teacher has their price - and New York is paying it. Stephen Phillips reports on the end of the city's staffing crisis

GENEROUS pay hikes are stoking a teacher recruitment boom in New York, easing the chronic staff shortages in the city's schools.

New York is on track to fill its 8,000 teaching vacancies before the new school year begins in September.

Unlike last year, when three out of five recruits had no teaching qualification, all staff are certified or close to certification, said the city's public schools chancellor, Harold Levy.

The staff influx follows a lavish deal struck in June that raised teachers' wages by 16 to 22 per cent. It made New York America's highest-paying major urban education authority, according to David Sherman, vice-president of the United Federation of Teachers, which negotiated the package.

A major incentive is the lifting of a salary cap on teachers who transfer to New York from elsewhere. "One of the real sweeteners is that teachers with six to eight years' experience in another system are granted constructive seniority and their pay coming in can be as high as $61,000 (pound;39,250)," Mr Levy said.

A job fair held in Brooklyn last month drew more than 2,000 teachers from across America.

As well as boosting recruitment, the pay increase is helping staff retention.

"Once the new contract was finalised, a lot of people who intended to retire saw their salary go up by $11,000 (pound;7,000) and they decided to stay," said Mr Sherman.

Just 3,000 teachers out of New York's 80,000 workforce retired at the end of the last school year - half the number expected, said Mr Sherman.

Experienced teachers can now earn up to $81,231 (pound;52,300) under the settlement.

However, reflecting the polarisation between inner-city and suburban schools in the US, teachers in wealthier neighbouring areas still take home more money.

Aggressive hiring from abroad has also played its part. About 5 per cent of staff - 400 teachers - starting in New York classrooms next term came from overseas.

Austria, Spain, Canada and the British Virgin Islands were particularly good sources. New York recruiters travel the world and take out advertisements in local newspapers.

Another 2,000 of the new appointees are graduates entering teaching from other professions. They will be trained on the job.

Another reason for the surge in applications for teaching positions in the city is the decision to suspend an unpopular policy of posting qualified teachers to the most troubled schools.

The policy, introduced two years ago to tackle acute staff shortages at the roughest schools, cost New York 2,000 teachers, Mr Levy said.

The large pay rise granted to teachers was part of a radical revamp of the city's schools by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, capped last week by the appointment of publishing executive and lawyer Joel Klein to succeed Mr Levy as schools chief.

Mr Klein, President Clinton's anti-monopoly enforcer, best known for leading the charge to dismantle Microsoft, is the latest in a growing line of education chiefs lacking education experience. This is now seen as less important than the ability to manage multi-billion-dollar budgets, so American cities are turning to experienced outsiders to run their schools.

Seattle recently plumped for an investment banker, Chicago secured a charity chairman and Los Angeles hired Colorado's former governor.

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