While Michigan school districts struggle to hire, “teachers are actually free agents for the first time in their history. “

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A month into the school year, many Michigan school districts are still looking to hire for all kinds of positions, including teachers.

Most notably, Eastpointe Middle School in Eastpointe was forced to go virtual for a week, after several teachers abruptly resigned, leaving the school short-staffed. But districts statewide are still desperate to hire and find new ways to work with fewer staff.

The Michigan Department of Education does not account for vacant teaching positions. According to mischooldata.org, there are actually slightly more teachers in Michigan schools this year than last year, more than 110,000. At the same time, the overall school staff has declined by about 10 000 people compared to last year, just over 338,000 people. This means that, especially when it comes to teachers, some districts are experiencing severe shortages, while others are doing much better.

Educators point to several converging factors behind the situation. Fewer people go to education. COVID-19 has accelerated retirements and some teachers have left the profession. Other teachers have a wide range of options, and some exercise them by skipping for better opportunities.

Ben Williams, superintendent of Houghton Lake community schools, said the district is looking to fill a number of positions. He managed to fill the vacancies, with the help of a $ 6,000 signing bonus.

Williams said teachers have all the power in the job market right now. “It’s a bit of the Wild West. And teachers, especially teachers who are ready to be mobile, are really in the driver’s seat.

“The downside is that sometimes you can have someone for a semester or less, or a year, and then they’re gone. Because if they’re willing to move, that’s obviously something they might want to do in the short term, just to take advantage of this job market.

Some districts are using schools’ COVID relief funds for hiring bonuses and to increase teacher salaries. Williams said districts need to stay competitive, but also warned that the money will inevitably run out. “I think it’s also important for districts to remember that once that money is lost, if you’ve built yourself a cost structure or a salary scale that you just can’t maintain, it’s going to create problems in your life. the next two months. half years, ”he said.

At Kalkaska public schools, Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer says the district is also trying to hire teachers, especially for special education positions.

“We also hired some of our current employees not to necessarily teach on overload, but to have special education students on their workload. [We’re] try to be as creative as possible while being legal, ”Heitmeyer said.

Heitmeyer said that when he started teaching in the 1990s, there were often 50 applicants for a teaching position and 10 very good ones. “Now you’re excited if you have five candidates, and one that really stands out,” he said. “But at the same time, everyone is looking for the same person.”

Heitmeyer noted that this situation has reversed the downward trend in teacher fortunes since the Great Recession. They saw a lower starting salary and more contributions required for pensions and benefits. And teachers had to stay in a district for a long time to achieve higher salary levels. But with the current shortage, “teachers are actually free agents for the very first time. “

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